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The 20 Golden Rules of LinkedIn

With 750 million+ members, LinkedIn presents an enormous opportunity to:

  • Keep in touch with people you know
  • Share ideas
  • Build your career.

But there is a right and wrong way to use LinkedIn.

And only by following our 20 golden rules of LinkedIn can you unlock its true potential!

Read on or use the table of contents to ‘jump’ to a specific section in the post.

Table of Contents

1. Understand What LinkedIn is

  • Primary tool for finding the right job or internship
  • Connection tool to build professional relationships
  • Learn the skills you need to succeed in your career.
LinkedIn is a tool built for professionals to be used by professionals.
It’s a form of social media but with a ‘professional context’ attached to social interactions.
So you need understand that people aren’t on LinkedIn to interact with you on a personal level.
But (and as we are about to discuss) this does not mean you can’t:

LinkedIn is also a fantastic tool for staying on the ‘pulse’ by discovering key insights, trends and research on the marketing landscape today.

Note: Never use LinkedIn as a digital resume (here’s why) and a dating site (LinkedIn’s community guidelines prohibit ‘romantic advances’).

Takeaway: Don’t confuse LinkedIn with other social media platforms. Because whilst LinkedIn is becoming more like them (even the new Facebook), it will always hold its place in the market as the leading professional platform.

2. Understand That All LinkedIn People are Different

  • Each LinkedIn user is unique and may use the platform differently to you
  • For example: Don’t expect everyone to network like you do
  • Being different establishes identity.
Uniqueness is a beautiful thing that separates us all as human beings.
 So remember that before diving onto the LinkedIn platform and engaging with others.
 People have a difference in standards, so for example:
Takeaway: When dealing with others on LinkedIn take a deep breath, embrace difference (understanding we all have unique DNA) and be understanding (not frustrated) to always project a professional image on the LinkedIn platform.

3. Put Others First on LinkedIn

Enhance the quality of your LinkedIn experience and the results by putting others first.
And as Forbes outlines here, this starts with compassion.
Because (again as outlined by Forbes here): “Compassion should drive everything you do if you want greater life satisfaction.”
 The 5 psychological benefits of putting the needs of others before your own are:
  • Stimulation of the brain’s pleasure pathways and makes you feel good
  • Helping others is contagious (and improves other people’s lives)
  • Makes you a better, happier person
  • Builds stronger social connections
  • Improves your physical health.
Takeaway: Putting others first on LinkedIn is healthy if you do it right way and won’t stop you progressing (as explained in this resource).

4. Play By LinkedIn Rules

  • Spamming is not allowed
  • Don’t send unsolicited direct messages
  • Multiple profiles are a big no.
Take the time to read LinkedIn’s user agreement and professional community policies to ensure you abide by all LinkedIn rules.
And don’t make the mistake of ‘not reading’ or ‘skim reading’ them.
Invest ‘smart time’ into understanding the rules now to save a catastrophe down the track – where you are found in breach of the rules and kicked off the platform.
Takeaway: Always play by LinkedIn rules as they are in place not only for you but for all users to follow. And when most people follow the LinkedIn rules it makes the platform more enjoyable to use and ensures better results for all.

5. Be Professional

  • Be accountable for your actions
  • Set a high standard and maintain this standard
  • Understand the platform is for professional and not personal posts.
We explained back in 1. (understand what LinkedIn is) that LinkedIn is a tool built for professionals to be used by professionals.
 So always be professional by following the 8 characteristics of professionalism in this resource by Mind Tools.
Overall: You demonstrate professionalism by showing high levels of expertise and efficiency.
Some examples of being professional include:
  • Getting recommendations/referrals/endorsements from only people you know
  • Avoiding reposting photos from another social media platform
  • Not adding connections to your email list.
Takeaway: Kevin Eikenberry summarises professionalism best here: “Able to see the big picture and adjust their actions based on that vision.” And so the big picture now is to understand professionalism, consistently apply that trait long-term on the LinkedIn platform and succeed.

6. Personalise

  • Connection and recommendation requests
  • Check and reply to comments
  • Send a welcome/thank you message.
Capture other professionals’ attentions (on LinkedIn) by personalising your invitations to connect and messages.
And you achieve this by having a one-on-one conversation that captures their specific interest and isolates the pain points they care about (for maximum impact and success).
So take the ‘initiative’ and avoid the 3 don’ts:
  • Don’t be lazy when sending invitations to connect
  • Don’t send the same message to everyone
  • Don’t use templates (unless you must or can make them work).
Note: 5 ways to personalise your LinkedIn connection message is a useful resource that will better guide you on the ‘personalisation’ process.
Takeaway: LinkedIn is a professional platform, but you need to personalise the experience as other professionals gravitate towards you more when you recognise them as an ‘individual’ (and not a number).

7. Have Etiquette & Be Polite

  • Send only relevant messages
  • Avoid sending blind connection requests
  • Never pitch to strangers.
People on LinkedIn breach good etiquette/politeness by:
  • Sending requests to people they don’t know
  • Bugging new contacts
  • Harvesting people’s emails and adding them to their mailing list.
And these are the obvious ones!
Because good etiquette/politeness goes beyond good manners that get you further on the platform.
So, ensure you:
  • Respond to all messages
  • Give all messages equal importance
  • Avoid sending messages that would be better off left unsent.
Takeaway: Establish a habit of being polite (here’s how) and understand (as summarised by Inc here) that to have etiquette/be polite you need to go beyond good manners to make an incredible first and lasting impression.

8. Take a Long-Term Approach

  • Patience is key
  • Don’t expect overnight success
  • Rewards are greater with a long-term approach.
In society we value short-term gratification and want to have instant results with everything we do.
But with LinkedIn you need to play the long game – because this is the only way to engage with the platform more effectively – and make smarter decisions, which lead to short, mid and long-term success.
Yes, that’s right. 
Because long-term thinking is your best short-term strategy according to Wharton Executive Education.
And this is because you are always thinking ‘big picture’ with all decisions you make – bringing plenty of ‘quick wins’ that accumulate to bigger wins (sooner than later).
Example of not taking a long-term approach on LinkedIn: Always trying to succeed by writing a viral post (no harm in doing so, but shouldn’t be your entire strategy).
Takeaway: Forbes summarises it best here: How becoming a long-term thinker will significantly improve your life and your career. And 7 tips (from Stunning Motivation) to foster your long-term thinking will help you get there.

9. Be Honest & Timely

  • Never lie as it only takes one lie to tarnish your reputation
  • Example of a lie: Embellishing your background in any way
  • Being timely is productive (and the quicker path to success).
Honesty: Always the best policy as it benefits you and others on the platform.
Medium summarise the importance of honesty best here: “Promotes openness, empowers us and enables us to develop consistency in how we present the facts.”
Timeliness: Reassures others on the platform (you’re dealing with) and makes them feel valued.
  • Respond as soon as you can
  • Try to have a 24-hour rule in responding (if possible)
  • Inspire and make happen (because results come sooner).
Takeaway: Be honest on LinkedIn and always remember, as Lifehack summarise in this resource: “The worst truth is better than the best lie.” Commit to timely responding on LinkedIn if you want to be successful (more on that here – and why it’s a healthy expectation to have).

10. Proofread Everything & Think Before Sharing

  • Goes beyond spelling and grammar
  • Ensures accuracy and meaning will be expressed as you intended.
  • Maintain your credibility, levels of professionalism and high standards.
One mistake is all it takes for you to stink!
So ensure that you proofread everything on LinkedIn and just as important – think before sharing.
And never view this as wasted time, because the process not only spots mistakes, but allows you to make key improvements to impact your target audience and get better results.
Example of not following this process: Sharing something on your LinkedIn profile starting with ‘I know I shouldn’t share this on LinkedIn, but I just had to.’ 
Takeaway: During the proofreading/think before sharing process you will be reining in your ‘emotion’ and justifying with logic – and that combination always leads to a better outcome. And if you have no idea about proofreading, this quick guide by Scribbr will help.

11. Show Energy, Be an Individual and Add Value

  • Having direction creates energy
  • Stand out from the pack
  • Clearly project benefits.
Show energy: And this starts by having direction on the LinkedIn platform. Because this direction gives you purpose = creates energy = productivity = optimum results.
Be an individual: Because sameness is boring and does not differentiate you from your competition. So never adopt a cookie cutter approach.
Add value: To the overall LinkedIn process by solving needs and clearly projecting the benefits that resonate with the target audience.
So don’t:
  • Be lazy about regularly updating your profile
  • Post self-serving content
  • Forget to connect with all people you meet or want to meet.
Takeaway: Most people think it’s your time you need to manage on LinkedIn – but it’s your energy – as explained here by Harvard Business review. You need to let your individuality shine through to stand out from LinkedIn competitors. Always add value when using LinkedIn – it’s the fundamental purpose of marketing – as explained here by Forbes.

12. Don't Burn Bridges

  • Bad look
  • Often irreversible damage
  • Closes opportunities.
Never exhibit behaviour on LinkedIn that means you end a relationship in such a way that you can never go back and re-start the relationship again.
That’s what burning a bridge is.
And examples of it are:
  • Trashing recruiters
  • Badmouthing past employers
  • Having negative things to say about anyone.
Takeaway: Forbes outlines five cases where you can burn a bridge, but the best advice for LinkedIn is never to burn a bridge, because you never know when you will need a person (in any capacity and at any time).

13. Always Express Gratitude

  • Say thank you more often
  • Opens the door to build more professional relationships
  • Example of gratitude: Saying thank you to a connection after asking them for a favour.
Expressing gratitude (by saying ‘thank you’) is proven to make you happier.
So in every situation (large or small), on LinkedIn, where you are ‘benefiting’ directly or indirectly – say thank you!
 And this directly could be:
  • When you ask for advice (and receive a thoughtful answer)
  • At a networking event (where someone introduces you)
  • Acknowledging someone at work (for taking the initiative to ease your workload).
Indirectly means not shying away from saying thank you ‘in the moment’ and whenever you feel a ‘positive vibe’ (from another professional on LinkedIn).
Takeaway: Forbes summarise gratitude best here: “Expressing gratitude tends to spread positive feelings. You feel good about something and your appreciation makes someone else feel good as well.” Got that? So learn how to cultivate gratitude by reading this resource (again by Forbes).

14. Ensure Relevancy & Speak The Right Language

  • Critical for success
  • Key to understanding your audience
  • So for example: Don’t include awards not relevant now.
Ensure relevancy: People have short attention spans (which are narrowing), are bombarded with information and so you need make sure your LinkedIn profile is hitting home with your target audience.
Speak the right language: Get your target audience on LinkedIn to know, like and trust you by speaking directly to them – addressing their problems and providing the right solutions.
And do this by:
Takeaway: Be on the same page as your target audience on LinkedIn by showing ‘relevancy’ (and here are 4 ways to do it according to Inc). Speak the right language on LinkedIn to connect and build relationships with other professionals that maximise your success.

15. Get The Basics of LinkedIn Right

  • Get a high-quality/current professional photo
  • Have a winning headline
  • Put enough time into your profile.
You want big success on LinkedIn, but you can’t achieve that before getting the basics of LinkedIn right.
High-quality/current professional photo: Make it easier for people to remember your face by using a clear and great headshot (that is ideally not outdated by over 3 years).
Have a winning headline: Capture attention immediately by being specific and with enough detail in your headline to connect with your target audience (more on that in this 60 second tip video).
Put enough time into your profile: Because remember this is an ‘investment’ of time to maximise your results on LinkedIn (so it’s smart time not wasted time).
Takeaway: Getting the basics right is the one thing you must master when building a brand. And likewise on LinkedIn you can’t fully unlock its potential until you execute the ‘basics.’

16. Utilise LinkedIn Effectively & Have a Complete Profile

  • Get a personalised URL
  • Regularly check your LinkedIn inbox for important opportunities
  • Download the LinkedIn app.
Take the initiative and utilise all space/key areas in LinkedIn as it helps let people learn more about you.
So include a:
  • Headline
  • Summary
  • Activities
  • Contact information (as a starting point).
Log into LinkedIn’s settings section to set your email notifications to your preference so that you do not miss a message or a notification.
Ensure ‘consistency’ in your profile (with no mismatches) and don’t forget to change your privacy settings to anonymous (if it gives you more peace of mind).
Takeaway: Maximise your impact on LinkedIn by having a complete profile (not being lazy) and getting the most out of the platform (i.e., using it effectively).

17. Keep All Information Accurate and Up To Date

  • Keep your profile complete and current
  • Apply for jobs only after updating your profile
  • Update your profile (and headline) after you receive an award/recognition.
Proofreading everything and thinking before sharing (discussed back in 10.) is critical to keeping all information accurate/up to date.
And that includes listing information (like an award) on LinkedIn that is seriously outdated (and adds no value to your profile).
So (for example):
  • Don’t have multiple current jobs
  • Leave out chunks of your employment history (a big no)
  • Omit any of your former employers and schools.
Takeaway: Keeping all information accurate/up to date comes back to being professional (discussed back in 5.) for the long-term (8.) and ensuring relevancy/speaking the right language (14.).

18. Be Visible & Consistent

  • Stay logged in and be active
  • Keep your public profile visible
  • Post content regularly (and more than just text).
You can’t achieve your potential on LinkedIn if you’re not ‘visible’ and ‘consistency’ is key to success (learn from these entrepreneurs).
So ‘consistently’ set aside time (during your week) to login and make productive use of your time on LinkedIn – here’s 18 top tips for doing so and the 9 habits of productive people according to Forbes may also help you.
And this productive time should all take a long-term approach (as discussed back in 8.).
Takeaway: Take the ‘initiative’ as that is what you need to be visible/consistent on the LinkedIn platform to strengthen your personal brand and maximise success.

19. Be Proactive to Build Professional Relationships

  • Actively engage with your connections
  • Take the initiative and don’t be reactive
  • Proactive approach keeps you prominent in people’s minds.
Your new connections won’t grow fast unless you take a ‘proactive’ approach to acquiring them through professionalism (5.), personalisation (6.) and relevancy (14.).
And they won’t stick around if you don’t ‘nurture’ the professional relationship by being visible/consistent (18.), 3. trying to put them first (where possible) and have etiquette/be polite (7.).
Takeaway: Planbox summarise it best here: “Considering the future today is the best way to avoid chaos tomorrow.” So enrich your work life today with ‘added meaning’ by being proactive to build professional relationships. 

20. Choose Quality over Quantity

  • Avoid posting status updates too often (and only post what is useful)
  • Do not send connection requests to everyone (it’s not a numbers game)
  • Have meaning with your connections (so more is not always better).
Adopt a ‘less is more’ (quality) approach on LinkedIn that is:
  • Professional (5.)
  • Personalised (6.)
  • Value driven (11.).
So take the big hint and kick a ‘quantity’ approach to the can – because it will only end in failure (when other professionals on LinkedIn are seeing that you’re offering little value).
Takeaway: Adopt a strict ‘quality’ approach on LinkedIn as it grabs attention, builds trust with your target audience and inspires others on the platform to take positive action that benefits you (maximising your impact).

Bonus LinkedIn Knowledge

Be Careful when Editing

  • You’re edits can be publicly viewable unless you change settings
  • Example 1: Turn off your activity broadcasts
  • Example 2: Edit your sharing profile settings when you are making major changes to your profile.

Be Trusting but Cautious

  • Don’t connect with random strangers
  • Not all recommendations/endorsements are true
  • Avoid clicking on something too quickly from LinkedIn.

Use Tools to Work Smarter (Not Harder)



American baseball player Jackie Robinson once said: “A life is not important except in the impact is has on other lives.”

So take inspiration from this to impact on other professionals using LinkedIn.

And maximise this impact by following the 20 golden rules to LinkedIn – that will make or break you!

Over to You…

Do you agree with The 20 Golden Rules of LinkedIn? Or is there something missing, or you would like to add?? Would love to hear from you in the comments – any feedback is greatly appreciated.

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