50 Shades of Grey on LinkedIn

By Viveka von Rosen

What Rules Not to Break (and Ones You Might Bend a Little)

There are a few practices on LinkedIn that will get you punished. Some of you might be into that – but for most of you these grey areas can really get you into trouble.

Use Your Real Name (and Don’t Try to Game the System)

One of LinkedIn’s first rules in its User Agreement is “use your real name on your profile.” I would hope that would be obvious, especially since you should be using LinkedIn for business.  Unless you’re an author or a porn star, pseudonyms don’t go over well on LinkedIn.

Another thing I see a lot of people doing is putting things other than their last name in the last name field. Now if you have a certification, a license, or degree that you want to put after your name – that’s fine. I’m talking more about things like email addresses, keywords, or phone numbers.

LinkedIn is very clear that you should NOT “publish inaccurate information in the designated fields on the profile form.” So do not include a link, email address, or a keyword phrase in the name field.

The Punishment?

The consequences of getting slapped? You become invisible in a LinkedIn search. How do I know? Someone taught me to put my keywords in my last name field. LinkedIn found out and essentially blacklisted my profile from search. When I check the statistics I am not even found under my keywords. Thank goodness for Google or I probably wouldn’t be findable at all!

If LinkedIn ever whips you like they did me, there are two responses: beg or dominate. You can beg LinkedIn’s customer service to help you (although many times they are unable to). Or you can dominate in your field so that even if you don’t show up on LinkedIn under your keywords, you show up because of the Influencers you are connected to and the fact that people know you by name.

Why Do People Do This? Because Google Likes It.

You might show up higher in a Google search on your keywords by breaking some of LinkedIn’s rules. To me the reward is not worth the punishment. I went from getting about 20 hot leads a week in my inbox to 3 or so. That cost me, over the lifetime of my LinkedIn career, probably hundreds of thousands of dollars. Since I’m not Christian Grey, that’s an issue!

Don’t Wear a Mask!

How may times have you seen a logo, stock photo, or an animal as the headshot photo?  LinkedIn makes it clear that you should not “upload a profile image that is not your likeness.”

Also, don’t be lewd. No exposed body parts. LinkedIn doesn’t like it when you upload inappropriate, inaccurate, or objectionable content.

The Punishment?

LinkedIn will remove your photo and make you upload another one, suspend your account, or delete your account entirely. It depends on the level of offense (and offensiveness).

Don’t Be Someone You’re Not

LinkedIn only allows you to have one personal profile (and then as many company pages as you have unique domains for).

Usually people that have more than one account on LinkedIn don’t even know it. It happens when you don’t list all of your email addresses in LinkedIn’s “Accounts and Settings” section.  So when someone invites you to connect using the email address that’s not listed, LinkedIn thinks you don’t have an account and invites you to create a new one. LinkedIn associates your profile with your email address – or email addresses – not your name.

Some people create two accounts because they have two very different businesses. Maybe they’re looking for a job but have their own business on the side. An understandable strategy, but still against LinkedIn’s User Agreement not to “create a member profile for anyone other than a natural person… or create a false identity on LinkedIn.” It doesn’t actually say you can’t create two LinkedIn accounts, but if you have them, LinkedIn will make you take one down.

Some people have set up personal profiles to read like a company page (substituting their image for the company logo and their name with the company name.) This is a big no-no on LinkedIn.

The Punishment?

LinkedIn is very clear that you are only supposed to have one personal account. As mentioned above, if LinkedIn finds out you have two or more accounts (and they usually find out when someone turns your profile in) then they will make you choose one of your accounts and close the others. If you’ve spent a significant amount of time building that account, growing its network, and interacting with your connections there – this is a rather painful punishment. I know, because I’ve had to do it!

Rather than having two accounts, do your best to coalesce your interests into your one LinkedIn account. You can always use the summary section to describe why you have two different focuses and/or add the two unique businesses as separate entities in your experience section. You could also create Company pages to reflect your different interests. Worst case scenario, focus on the business that brings you in the most money or that you want to grow.

Connecting To People You Don’t Know

LinkedIn also says not to ”invite people you do not know to join your network.” It doesn’t say anything about accepting invitations from people you don’t know. This is a rule I knowingly break – because the reward is worth the punishment.

Your LinkedIn profile is only as visible – and LinkedIn is only as usable – as the size of your network. That being said, if you only connect to people you know, and you only know a few hundred people, your visibility remains pretty limited. Therefore, the business you can do on LinkedIn is likewise limited.

If you are in marketing, sales, own a small business, or are in the nonprofit arena – you might consider connecting to a few folks beyond those you know.

The Punishment?

If you invite too many people you don’t know to connect and they say they don’t know you or report you for spam, LinkedIn severely limits your ability to invite and engage with non-first level connections.

But if you are careful, always customizing your invitations and letting people know why you want to connect, you shouldn’t run into this issue. I have almost 30,000 connections. I do not know them all. I have sent out over 2000 invitations to connect. I don’t know them all either. But I am very careful and always read the profile of the person I am reaching out to. I usually mention someone we have in common too. So far I haven’t been slapped.

Don’t Get Cuffed!

Like the book, 50 Shades of Grey, there are reasons people do what they do. But on LinkedIn, as in life, the punishment in many cases might be too severe. LinkedIn has no safe words! If you’re going to break the rules beware of the consequences.

If you do get cuffed, you can always write to customer service and ask for their leniency. Being aware of the rules (and consequences) means that you can decide which ones, if any, you are willing to break.

There is more where this came from…

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