LinkedIn for journos

ABOUT A THIRD of the journalists present at March's LFB meeting already had a LinkedIn "profile". Richard George and Darain Faraz, from the LinkedIn company itself, were on hand to demonstrate some of the site's lesser-known features that might help journalists "find stories, find sources... key an eye on the beats that you cover."

Richard George and Darain Faraz

Darain Faraz (seated) and Richard George (standing) demonstrate a LinkedIn profile (onscreen)

While other social media sites tend to emphasise the... er... social side of social media, most people land on your LinkedIn page because of the "professional context": it's basically a kind of living, breathing, online version of your CV.

As such it should reflect your "skills, qualities, education and experience" and help put you in touch with "people who want to work for you" or in the case of freelances, people who might want to give you work.

The professional context means that you've got just your "one and only photo" of yourself on your LinkedIn page, which should be "not necessarily you at your last birthday party." It's striking how many LinkedIn photos - including Richard's own - are in black-and-white. (A monochrome photo for a LinkedIn profiles - photographers please note - is increasingly done by a professional. Monochrome is apparently kinder about the effects of ageing, especially in Silicon Valley.)

According to Darain, if you do have a photo with your LinkedIn CV, you're eleven times more likely to be found than someone who doesn't.

Along with the photo, the ideal LinkedIn profile also has a "summary" of a couple of paragraphs about what you're doing "currently", "specialities" and also "prior" work. In the case of Richard, who's in PR, this includes "stories I've worked on." The summary should include lots of those lovely keywords that commissioning editors should be looking for. You're now able to link to documents, videos, etc. which could include examples of your front cover stories and so on, which is beginning to make the site "more of a portfolio than a CV online."

Drawing of a LinkedIn page; Matt Salusbury

Artist's impression of what a LinkedIn page might look like

LFB Committee member Richenda Power raised at this point a problem with uploading videos that are on the Vimeo platform, so the LinkedIn people invited her to get in touch about that, suggesting it could be a problem with "large video files". They alerted the audience to a not very obvious link at the bottom left of the LinkedIn page called "Help Center," which is a good first port of call if you're not sure about something.

LinkedIn have recently made it possible for people who have one of its profiles to endorse each other, through "recommendations". The "Skills and Endorsements" (you can endorse someone on LinkedIn who you feel has a particular professional skill) can often turn out to be for "someone you've only worked with briefly," says Richard. These Endorsements present a sort of "crowdsourced picture of you and your skills [which] helps people find you."

One member who works in the arts says they get "random endorsement from individuals who know nothing about you but assume you must be good at something in, say, the gallery world" just by virtue of having a job in it. As Richard points out, you have to give some thought to the invitations you get to join someone's "network" on LinkedIn, and to random attempts to endorse you through "Recommendations."

Says Richard, "it's up to every member how free they want to be in accepting invitations and endorsements, or how close they want to keep" their LinkedIn network. Financial industry people, for example, tend to have very small LinkedIn networks, as "trusted, one-to-one relations" are (allegedly) very important to that sector, while PRs like Richard will tend to have bigger networks, because making connections is part of the PR game. (Richard has 500+ "connections" on his network, but then he does work for LinkedIn itself.)

You "don't have to accept people's endorsements" of you that come your way via LinkedIn. Richard notes that acceptance of a lone frivolous invitation or recommendation "will not make that much of a difference" to the algorithms that drive the site. He advises that LinkedIn is "not a numbers game: it's people you trust and know in the real world" from whom you should be accepting invitations to network. The quality and credibility of your connections says more about you in the world of work than who's collected the most so-called "friends" or "followers".

There are currently around 227 million members of LinkedIn, with one joining every two seconds. It's in 22 languages - there are 22 million in India, 15 million in Brazil, 13 million in the UK. Of the FTSE 100, 76 companies are now using LinkedIn to hire people, and the site makes money partly through recruitment adds. And there are 3.5 million "company profiles" for organisations on LinkedIn.

How helpful it is in getting you work seems to depend partly on the health of your industry. A colleague of the Freelance assistant editor who works in advertising sales says he was "headhunted five times" within a very short time of signing up. One LFB member reported that they'd "been on it for a while... been fairly selective" regarding invitations to make connections, but "not got any work yet" via the site.

While it might not be getting everyone paid work, LinkedIn does help you "identify potential contacts and contact them." Using the "Interests" navigation bar at the top of the page, Richard and Darain demonstrated how to find experts in a particular field. (It can handle Boolean searches - for example seeking entries one term and another term with it as well.) One member was working on a medical story on tongue-tie, a congenital condition in babies. The LinkedIn search produced one person on LinkedIn UK who was an expert on it, and showed that they had a mutual acquaintance who was among one of Richard's many "connections", meaning Richard would be able to pick up the phone and ask that person whether he could introduce him to said expert.

Other widgets Richard demonstrated were turning off the "actions" so the whole world didn't get to hear every time you changed job or updated your CV, and the "Advanced" settings that allow you to stop other people on LinkedIn knowing exactly who has been checking out their LinkedIn profile. The trade-off is that while you have this stealth-mode switched on you can't see who's been checking out your profile either.

And there are LinkedIn freebies for journos. Regrettably, the offer to "send us your details we'll give you premium account for a year" only applied to those who stayed to the end of the meeting and came up in person, not to all Freelance readers. But there's a LinkedIn for journalists group that offers free training sessions every month.

No corporate presentation at LFB would be complete without some criticism. Asked one member, "Is it a labour of love? I'm being ironic." Richard says LinkedIn makes it money by selling software to help recruiters recruit; by hosting job ads on its site; and through premium subscriptions that have all sorts of extra whistles and bells, including a monthly quota of requests for LinkedIn to put you in touch with influential people on their network who you couldn't normally reach. Richard assured LFB that "everything you're seeing us do is free."

LFB secretary Francis Sedgemore highlighted a data security issue - there's an option when you sign up that allows you to upload your email address book (the one that comes with either a Google Mail or a Yahoo account), allowing LinkedIn to tell you who in your address book in already a LinkedIn member. Francis felt that - especially in view of journalists' ethical and legal requirements about protection of sources - it was "too easy through one click to upload your digital address book to be interrogated by LinkedIn... by accident."

Richard and Darain said LinkedIn are "looking into" making this feature less prone to being switched on by accident, and reminded the audience to guard their Google Mail/Yahoo digital address book carefully. Richards treats his "as I would treat my phone messages." (The Freelance team humbly suggest another post-Snowden-revelations method of ensuring your Yahoo or Google address book aren't accidentally shared with LinkedIn - don't have a Yahoo or Google email account in the first place!)

Also mentioned by Francis were LinkedIn's "plans to operate in China", known for its internet censorship, and whether LinkedIn would be doing some kind of democratic audit of their dealings with the People's Republic. Richard said he wasn't able to answer that as it wasn't his area of expertise, but off the cuff said he felt that on balance the ability to help people in China make connections with people in democracies made LinkedIn's involvement there worthwhile.

  • Those NUJ-member freelances currently on LinkedIn or considering joining it should also be aware of the NUJ's own dedicated listing of its freelance journalists - the NUJ Freelance Directory which currently has 1400 members, all of whom have actually had to demonstrate that they are working journalists rather than just saying they are. It's open to paid-up NUJ freelance members, both full and temporary. One advantage is that it's owned not by a corporate, but by the NUJ.
  • Watch this space for a survey coming shortly about your experience of the NUJ Freelance Directory, and how we can improve and promote it, and on other directories that you use to promote yourself and find work. Also known to host offers of work are the Grapevine email list Grapevine for members of NUJ branches on the continent of Europe, and the LFB-moderated UK Subs UK Subs email list for sub-editors.
Last modified: 31 Mar 2014 - © 2014 contributors
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