Sunday, February 10, 2013

Entering Year 10 on LinkedIn … and the Point of The Waldo Factor (The Waldo Factor, part 17)

LinkedIn celebrates its 11th birthday  on May 5 (launched 5/5/03),  and I am entering my 10th year on this evolving platform.

I joined LinkedIn on February 11, 2004 as member # 222,445. By that time Frank Araby had invited me to join at least 5 times, starting in 2003. I knew Frank was not one to waste his time, so I joined. I joined one week after Facebook was launched at Harvard. At that time LinkedIn was already 9 months old.

Like many then and now, after joining I waited for something to happen. And waited…. Most of us have been here at one point. I had minor notoriety in the early 2000s from my activity in the GovCon community, and I probably expected some people to find me. That didn't happen. Between 2004 and 2007, the vast majority of the GovCon community was not on LinkedIn.

In early 2007 I read David Meerman Scott’s The New Rules of Marketing and PR. While he did not discuss LinkedIn in the first edition (there are currently 3 editions), he did open my eyes to the rapidly expanding influence of the new tools on the web. He opened them wide.

I took his guidance but applied it directly to LinkedIn, where I felt my market had the best chance of developing. By March 2007, I had only about 100 connections and was a member of 2 or 3 groups.

After reading David's book, I developed a simple LinkedIn strategy and started working.

By early 2008, I started writing and speaking about using LinkedIn for B2G. Anecdotally, at this time maybe 10% of those in my audience when I was speaking were on LinkedIn. Today, it is not under 90% in any business venue. Coincidentally, as I was writing and speaking about this tool, the  growth curve of LinkedIn started on a significant upward trend. I am not claiming responsibility for that growth, but I was addressing the subject at an opportune time, well before many others.

Since 2008, I have written over 75 articles and blog posts and have presented nearly 150 public and private seminars, speeches and coaching sessions on LinkedIn.  Both talking and writing about LinkedIn makes me work harder at being good at using it. When I talk about LinkedIn I will often get questions that make me think hard before I answer. Sometimes the answer is, “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

Between the fall of 2010 and summer of 2011 LinkedIn hit its tipping point and went from a "nice to be on" to a "must be on"  social network. In 2012, 5.7 billion searches were conducted on LinkedIn, and it averaged 160 million unique visitors a month. The GovCon market is now on LinkedIn in big numbers, federal employees and managers and almost all of the major contractors. There are hundreds of groups for this community.

According to, LinkedIn is one of the most visited sites on the web, almost always ranking in the top 15 sites with the most traffic.

LinkedIn is a great tool, but it is not a panacea. Scott talked about many new tools in New Rules, but he also emphasized generating pertinent content. Content is something I’ve been talking and writing about for over 20 years. Having new places to share pertinent content was great.

To further educate myself and others on the potential of social networking I started writing The Waldo Factor posts on 8/30/11. I started the series for several reasons, among them are to:

-          demonstrate the importance of generating pertinent content

-          show where and how you could share the content in venues that pay dividends

-          prove that by doing so, both your credibility and visibility would rise

-         validate that LinkedIn is the premier venue for connecting and sharing for business professionals. Good-to-great content leads directly to really good connections.

Here is the first Waldo post from 8/30/11. I find it more valid today then when I  first wrote it.

Here’s the scene, and I think we’ve all been here: You are at a conference and the person on stage speaking to 1,000+ people is somewhere between adequate and pretty good, but you are thinking he/she is not as good as you. My usual thought is along the lines of “where did they dig up this clown, and why is he/she talking about last year’s hot ideas as if they were new?”

So why is that person on the stage and you are sitting, frustrated, in the audience? What got them up there and not you?

While there are no easy answers to that question, the biggest factor is they are better known for what they do than you are. It may be because they wrote a book or some articles, they had some other speaking engagements, they were recommended by someone advising the event, or maybe they “knew somebody” or probably some combination of these and other factors.

Somehow they were able to get in front of the right people at the right time and get the speaking engagement.

Regardless of the factors that created the situation, the fact is they are on the stage and you are in the audience. People are looking at and listening to them, and you are one of those faceless people in the crowd. Again, we've all been there.

Think of the person on the stage as Point B, and you as Point A. How do you get from Point A to Point B?

In the book series Where's Waldo, a tall guy with glasses dressed in blue pants, a red and white striped shirt and matching hat is always somewhere in a scene so crowded with other things and other people that it is hard to find him. The reader’s (really, viewer, as there are no words) job is to find Waldo.

In the speaking scenario above, the only person easy to find is the person on the stage. Unless you are wearing a red and white striped shirt with a matching hat, you will be hard to pick out in that audience. That's not usually the way you want to stand out in a business crowd.

Your job is to intellectually stand out and stand apart in your business niche, and to be easily found by those who need to find you because of your expertise. Only then the people you want to meet and know will have an interest in knowing you and having as part of their online and offline network.

Growth in any market niche is predicated on building relationships with key influencers in that niche, and then becoming an influencer in that niche. Those influencers can include prospects, partners, press, investors, C-level execs and others influential in your market.

To build the relationships and maximize your presence, you need to develop credibility in your market, then build your visibility. Visibility without credibility has no value or worse, negative value.

Credibility is developed by being good at what you do and working at getting better, being among the best at what you do, and adding value to the community. Then you find ways to share some of your knowledge and opinions with others.

Once you start this process, you are already creating visibility, but it is necessary to continue to build your knowledge base as you expand your visibility. Markets evolve and you must evolve with them to retain your credibility.

Traditionally we have face-to-face events for networking, seminars and conferences where we share or receive knowledge, publications where we read, write or be quoted. These are still excellent venues.

But wait!!! There's more!

With the advent of web 2.0 tools, we have the ability to either bypass traditional methods or enhance them by incorporating them into our web-based activity.

For business professionals, LinkedIn has become an incredibly valuable tool for developing credibility and visibility. Your ability to stand out in a crowd is now predicated on your ability use both the traditional and web-based tools and coordinate the activity between them to make you among the most “findable" experts in your niche. Think of it as "findability".

So here is the initial equation:

credibility + visibility = findability.

There are several examples and one great example is Steve Ressler, founder of GovLoop.

Steve was a government IT analyst and program manager at the Department of Homeland Security. While working for the government, on his own time he co-founded Young Government Leaders, which has become a great networking venue for the next generation of public managers.

Then in 2008, Steve started the online community for Feds, GovLoop (“by for and about Feds - the Facebook for government”).

Steve's use of social media, which also led to being featured in traditional media, is a great example of what can happen if you develop an expertise and share your ideas. Along the way he won acclaim and awards from industry groups and trade publications, leading to even more visibility.

Steve stays active through GovLoop, Young Government Leaders and mainly by sharing ideas in as many forums as possible.

None of this happened overnight for Steve, and it all required hard work.

We don't all need industry-wide visibility, but most of us need visibility within a defined niche. And the tactics to gain that visibility are basically the same:

1- be good at what you do and work hard at staying good;

2- find the venues where those in your niche congregate, both online and offline venues, and get involved;

3- participation in these venues involves helping with events, working in special interest groups, developing and sharing ideas, commenting on other ideas, etc;

4- always be on the lookout for ways to share with others who would be interested.

Credibility, visibility and findability are truly keys to success.


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