I talk about the professional benefits of LinkedIn all the time – for years in fact – and there’s never been a more important time to make LinkedIn part of your marketing strategy than right now during this extraordinary time of social distancing.

But before you can use the platform to generate leads, build stronger relationships and interact with your connections, you have to make sure you have the basics down first.

Here are a few core areas to complete on your profile right away to make sure you are positioning yourself in the strongest way possible.

1. Upload a custom background image to your profile. LinkedIn’s default background image is a blue constellation pattern. Every business professional should not use this default image and instead upload a custom image that relates to what they do and reflects their personal brand. Unsplash and Canva are two great online tools with already licensed images that you can easily resize to the LinkedIn profile banner size (which is 1600 x 400). Think skylines, abstract images and your company logo on a simple background.

2. Update your profile photo and background cover image. Most of you should have a recent professional company headshot but if you don’t please don’t use an unprofessional personal photo. You can use a personal photo and make it look professional with some great online tools such as FaceApp, which can change the background of a personal photo a solid background or generic office background making the image look professional.

Your LinkedIn headshot is your human connection to your network so make sure you use a recent high-resolution image in which your face takes up at least 60 percent of the image frame (it’s easy to zoom in on your current photo right in LinkedIn). Also remember to smile 🙂. People want to work with people who they like for the most part. Regardless of whether or not you are the very best at what you do, it’s incredibly important to be personable, approachable and friendly.

It’s important to customize your LinkedIn cover image otherwise LinkedIn will display the default blue constellation pattern. You have a lot of visual real estate up at the top of your profile to convey your personal brand so use it! No need for a graphic designer, as there are free tools such as Canva.com that make creating graphics like this easy.

3. Customize your headline. Your headline is the most important section of your LinkedIn profile in my opinion because it gets pulled into Google and LinkedIn search results (and your LinkedIn profile will either be your number 1 or 2 search result on Google, underscoring its importance). So make every single word of it count. If you don’t customize it, LinkedIn will pull in your current job title as your default headline, and that’s selling yourself short. This is where you can describe your value proposition and what makes you unique from everyone else, which is important in the crowded field of law. Take a look at mine and the image accompanying this post. I thought about every single word. I didn’t just use my job title – I wanted to be more descriptive.

Many people do themselves a disservice when it comes to not optimizing their headline because they don’t descriptively describe what they do. For example, some lawyers will just say they are a “partner” or “associate” at X firm in their headline. Yawn. Even adding the words “Intellectual Property” before the title would be better than just saying partner or associate, but you can go a step further and add in “copyright, trademark and patent” for more detail. Spending the time to create a strong LinkedIn header is well worth the effort.

4. Draft a compelling about/summary section. This is a forward-looking statement, at least three paragraphs in length, that clearly explains who you are and what you do – sort of your bio but it’s a summary of your entire professional history. This should be written in a much less formal in tone than your web site biography and should not contain phrases that are self-serving or boastful (such as calling yourself a nationally recognized expert or a leader).

Also, play down your awards and recognitions in this section as well. Be humble and always think show versus tell with everything you write – convey why should someone want to work with you or hire you – that should be your guiding principle when writing the about section – not why you’re the best at what you do and listing your accomplishments (you can do that later on in the publications and recognitions section).

5. Be active. Having a strong LinkedIn profile is only part of being successful on the platform. You must also be active on LinkedIn in order to engage with your connections and stay top of mind with them. Use comments, likes and most importantly posts of your own to help your connections see the value you bring as a subject-matter expert and thought leader.

You should be posting at least once or twice per week at first (aim for three times a week as you get more comfortable) with a combination of original content and curated content (sharing articles of interest from other sources, people or your firm as well as surveys and reports) and commenting on the posts of important connections. By commenting on others’ posts, you get noticed by others. Content is the key to building connections and engaging your network. When posting articles to LinkedIn, it is important to focus on the interests of your prospects. Google Alerts and Twitter are great ways to find and aggregate news for post ideas.

I would also suggest that you get involved in LinkedIn groups. Groups on LinkedIn have exploded since the pandemic. There are many LinkedIn groups in various industries where you can interact with other business professionals who have similar interests as you. Once you join a group, you can then share posts in that group and connect with anyone in the group. Think of it like going to a networking event.

Final thoughts. These are small yet very important steps to take on LinkedIn that will make a big difference when it comes to enhancing your brand.

The most important thing you can do right now, especially during this time of social distancing, is to stay top of mind with your professional network and to nurture relationships. And while we can’t get together in person for the most part to network, LinkedIn is the next best thing we have to foster brand and relationship building. In order to be truly successful on LinkedIn, you have to not only have a strong profile and a lot of connections, but you also need to be active on LinkedIn in a meaningful way.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions.