While LinkedIn provides benefits particularly helpful for accountants, it is important to review all that a free, basic LinkedIn account offers. From profile creation to making connections and recommendations, LinkedIn tools can benefit users in any profession.
CREATING AN ACCOUNT
Getting started with LinkedIn begins with visiting linkedin.com to create a professional profile as shown in the screenshot at right.
During registration, choose either a free (Basic) account or a premium account. Both allow you to create a professional profile, join groups, and search and apply for jobs. Premium accounts include features such as the ability to see who has viewed your profile, send messages to those you are not connected to, save profiles to folders, and have premium search filters and automated search alerts. A range of premium accounts exists for business owners, recruiters and job seekers. Four premium account levels exist for businesses and recruiters with monthly prices of $24.95, $49.95, $99.95 and $499.95. Each level has increased features. The chart below provides details, including how many searches, introductions, etc., can be performed at one time. (See the “Connections” section of this article for a description of InMail and Introductions.)
After creating an account, choose Edit Profile to get started (see the screenshot below). Visible to your network and others searching on LinkedIn, your profile displays your name, experience, education, executive summary and skill set, recommendations and a photo.
You have the option to display your maiden name or only the initial of your last name to people outside your network. Experience outlines former positions and allows for detailed job descriptions. Specific expertise, accomplishments and goals are described within your executive summary, and recommendations allow you to ask to be endorsed for any position on your LinkedIn profile. More information on recommendations is explained later in this article.
After creating a profile, start making connections (see the screenshot below). Users can control who joins their network through several means: Invitations, Introductions and InMail. Two users connect when one sends an invitation to the other and the other accepts. LinkedIn will suggest potential connections to invite based on your profile information. For example, using your employment history, LinkedIn lists other members who worked for the same company at the same time. Similarly, LinkedIn finds classmates from your alma mater and/or colleges attended. Additionally, you can import your address book from an Internet-based e-mail account or an Outlook contacts file, manually input e-mail addresses, or use the search feature to find users you know. If your contacts are not already members, a feature allows you to invite them to join. Connections that have accepted are considered first-degree connections.
It is important to carefully screen who you accept as a connection; just as it is important to choose wisely those you invite. If there is someone with whom you would like to connect, but you do not know, consider using the Introductions feature available in LinkedIn. Within LinkedIn, second-degree connections are people connected to you through first-degree connections but are not connections to you. The levels of separation reach third-degree connections, followed by those outside your LinkedIn network.
The Introductions feature lets you contact members who are two or three degrees away from you. Just as you might call a mutual friend or colleague to introduce you to someone, you can send a LinkedIn introduction request through the connections you know and trust. By visiting the Profile page of the individual with whom you want to be introduced, you can request to be introduced through a mutual LinkedIn connection. Your connection (at his or her discretion) can then forward the introduction request. Responding to an introduction does not automatically result in a connection. To become connected, a member must send or accept an invitation using an e-mail address that was shared through the introduction process. The number of introductions sent is limited based on account type chosen. A Basic LinkedIn account may send five requests at a time. Once the maximum amount of requests is issued, a user must wait for an introduction to be accepted before sending another.
InMail allows you to send messages directly to LinkedIn users who are second or third degrees away from you or outside your network. InMail is not necessary for first-degree connections or members of your groups; a Send message link allows you to send messages to these members at no charge. InMail allows you to contact job candidates, those with whom you do not have a face-to-face relationship, or LinkedIn members whose e-mail address you do not know. InMail can be a quicker and simpler alternative to Introductions. Sending InMail is a paid feature that is part of a premium account or can be purchased individually. Basic accounts can receive unlimited InMails but incur a fee to send them. LinkedIn charges for InMail to prevent spam. Depending on your paid subscription, you can send up to 50 InMails per month.
Overall, these methods of communication allow users to reconnect with colleagues and classmates and form new connections through a trusted network. Privacy settings allow members to restrict or allow the kinds of interactions desired, making LinkedIn attractive to motivated, credible professionals while keeping spammers and phishers out.
LinkedIn allows users to create and join groups based on interest. Joining groups is an important venue for increasing your profile visibility as well as keeping track of current and former employees, college friends and other alumni. Based on your profile information, LinkedIn will create a list of groups for you in a Groups You May Like option on the Groups tab. You may also go to the Groups Directory and search your industry or by keyword to join a group; once accepted, you can share with the group.
At any time, a click on your photo takes you to your recent activity and links you to Discussions I’ve started, Discussions I’ve joined, or Discussions I’m following. Within these group discussions, you can create original Comments, choose the Like icon (thumbs up) or Unlike it, or choose the pass icon (thumbs down). Some groups have a Jobs tab that allows you to review jobs posted by other group members or yourself. Groups help facilitate the sharing of knowledge and best practices as well as provide a place for people to come when they are looking for answers. (For more on accounting-specific groups, see “LinkedIn Tips for CPAs” in this issue, page 44.)
Another hotspot of activity and opportunity is the Answers portion of LinkedIn available in the More dropdown tab (see the screenshot below). The Answers section allows users to read past, closed Q&As or ask/answer open questions. Questions and answers are topically organized; the Finance and Accounting category contains 10 subcategories, including Auditing, Budgeting, Corporate Tax, and Mergers and Acquisitions. Answering questions respectfully and promptly can help build your online business reputation and credibility with LinkedIn users outside your connection network.
Rather than writing “Recommendations Available Upon Request” or simply listing names at the bottom of your resume, LinkedIn allows you to post written recommendations directly to your LinkedIn profile (see the screenshots below). To request Recommendations, which are found in the Profile tab, first choose one of your positions and then specify which of your connections you want to write your recommendation; an e-mail created from within LinkedIn will send your request. You will receive your recommendation with an option to accept and post to your profile, request a replacement (due to spelling or other error), or archive (ignore). When writing recommendations for others, you may enter their e-mail address directly, locate them among your connections, or visit their profile. You will be asked to specify whether they are a colleague, service provider, business partner or student. Sent recommendations can be revised, replaced and withdrawn. The person receiving the recommendation must approve changes before they are posted on his or her profile. Withdrawn recommendations do not alert the person to whom the original recommendation was written.
WORDS OF CAUTION
Even amid the numerous benefits of LinkedIn’s networking, criticisms exist. Some fear that the younger generation will grow up relying solely on impersonal, Internet relationships, potentially replacing good, old-fashioned personal conversation and hand-shaking. The use of LinkedIn for professional networking along with the many social networking sites in use may be seen as a social skills disaster. Furthermore, many LinkedIn connections are made with people you know from a pre-professional time of life. It may be that your college reputation is not the same as your current, working professional reputation. Also, even with LinkedIn’s spam-control features, some members may use the site for self-promotion and send groups messages about their products or services offered.
Being smart about whom you accept as a connection is one way to help combat any potential disadvantages. Do not try to be the “hub” of all LinkedIn; it will weaken your credibility. Be honest in your profile. Use a profile picture, but ensure it is a current, professional photo. Save the casual pose, family photo or logo for a less formal social networking site. It’s important to create your executive summary in a Word document first. Spelling and grammar errors can be costly. Finally, be sure to visit the Learning Center link located in the More tab. There you will find additional helpful resources and user guides. (See the resources box at the end of this article.) The Customer Service link is particularly useful for basic keyword searches. You now have background knowledge about the creation of and the many advantages of a LinkedIn account. Ready, set, Link In!
Editor's note: Also read "LinkedIn Tips for CPAs," March 2011.
Caroline O. Ford (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an assistant professor of accounting at Baylor University. Justin Lim (email@example.com) is a master of taxation graduate student at Baylor University.
To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Alexandra DeFelice, senior editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-596-6122.
AICPA Social Media webcast archive, tinyurl.com/4nngzsg
PCPS Social Media Toolkit
This toolkit from the Private Companies Practice Section includes deep-dive guides for four tools (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and blogging), instructions for developing a sample social media usage policy, overall guidance on how to figure out where to start and how social media should be a part of an integrated marketing strategy, tinyurl.com/38vrsqd
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