How nonprofits can make the most of LinkedIn

The various tools and groups the professional network offers afford opportunities to gain information and boost your organization’s profile.

I had the privilege of presenting a webinar to the Darim Online community about how nonprofits should use LinkedIn.

If I had to offer three tips about using LinkedIn effectively, they would be:

  • Think about why you and your company want to be on LinkedIn, and how you use it will follow.
  • Identify a combination of 10 keywords and keyword phrases that best describe you, and 10 others that best describe the organization. Integrate these keywords and keyword phrases into your personal and company profiles.
  • Complete all employee personal LinkedIn profiles to 100 percent, as well as the organizational profile.

Here’s a closer look:

Start with your goals

The key to using any social media platform effectively is to use it to meet your goals. Decide first why you (or your organization) would want to use LinkedIn (such as finding collaborators, funders or colleagues). Once you know why you want to use LinkedIn, how you will use LinkedIn follows. For example, if you want to use LinkedIn to connect with foundations then you might:

  • Search for people who work at those foundations
  • Join groups that they have joined and participate
  • Ask for introductions through mutual LinkedIn connections
  • Use LinkedIn Answers to ask a question about contacting foundations

Identifying your goals will dictate your LinkedIn strategy.

Optimize your personal profile

One aspect of optimizing your profile is completing it fully. Be sure to include your photo, a summary of who you are, keywords and interests, and a summary of what you’ve accomplished in every position. It’s also important to have at least five recommendations, as people can search LinkedIn by number of recommendations.

Use the advanced search option to understand how you can be found, and include those in your profile. Some search parameters are by industry, geographic location, number of recommendations and position titles.

Optimizing your profile also means placing important phrases and keywords within your profile. Think about 10 to 15 keywords and keyword phrases that describe you professionally. Specifically, place keyword-rich content within the summary, specialties and interests sections.

Optimize the company profile

If your organization doesn’t have a company profile, create one on LinkedIn. Identify the 10–15 keywords that best describe your organization, and integrate them into the company profile for the profile to be search-ready. If your organization has a blog or Twitter presence, add those to the company profile to personalize the company. If you want to highlight specific products or services, do so through the “new products and services” feature.

Use the power of groups

Real connecting happens within groups. Search for groups related to your profession and industry. I also recommend joining groups your professional colleagues belong to as well. If a group is inactive or not valuable, leave. If it is worth your while, spend time within the group answering questions and offering help. When you find yourself in an interesting discussion, invite your colleagues to connect with you personally on LinkedIn after the discussion has concluded. I tend to see the same group of people commenting on group discussions, which helps me to know them through our participation.

When groups are managed by nonprofits, and the discussion is about the nonprofit or a specific cause, they tend to be inactive. I looked at many public nonprofit-administered groups while researching this presentation, and most were very inactive or not lively. (I cannot comment on private groups.)

I suspect that cause-specific or nonprofit-specific groups aren’t very active because LinkedIn users want to discuss professional issues, not organizational mission. I also think that mission-based discussion has limited appeal while industry-based discussion has much broader appeal and basis for discussion. Additionally, LinkedIn is not best used as a platform for recruiting people to become direct stakeholders; there are other platforms much better suited to cause-focused discussions.

There appears to be two exceptions to the inactive nonprofit-administered groups rule: One is Autism Speaks, which has a very lively LinkedIn group, though I’m not able to comment on why this is the case. The other exception seems to be professional associations. For example, the alumni group of the Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust (a youth business mentoring program) is a very active group for business class alums to connect with others and possibly do business together.

LinkedIn answers

LinkedIn Answers is both a wonderful research tool and means to find new connections. By subscribing to the RSS feed of a certain category of questions (such as Social Entrepreneurship), you can stay up to date on the latest industry discussions and answer questions from others. If your answer is selected as the “best answer,” you win the “best answer” designation, which enhances your professional credibility. Also, questions reach the entire LinkedIn community, not just your personal connections.

Other LinkedIn goodies

I love looking at what’s going on in the LinkedIn labs. Most recently, I’ve enjoyedLinkedIn Maps (visualize your own network) and Signal (trending news stories shared by your connections) from the labs. Check back each month for new labs products.

Debra Askanase is the CEO of Community Organizer 2.0, where a version of the article originally ran.

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