There are plenty of questions employees should ask when setting up a LinkedIn profile, but the number one question they should ask their marketing department is: "How should I write my LinkedIn profile summary in a way that supports our brand while also establishing my own professional identity?"
Come to think of it, if any of you actually hear those exact words, look alive; they might just be your next marketing hire!
Generally, summaries are considered the hardest part of a LinkedIn profile to get right. When a user sees that summaries actually require writing, most people fill the section with 2-3 non-descript, low-value sentences and assume the job is done, while a good many more opt out of the section altogether. At a large or mid-size company, mid-level managers and associate employees are perhaps the most likely to opt out because they often feel worried that their summary will reveal to their superiors that they're actively seeking a new job—or at least open to looking. There's a balance to be struck with writing a summary that emphasizes current work while alluding to future aspirations.
At the same time, companies today need employee LinkedIn profiles that help promote the brand and drive interest in whatever they sell. Employee profiles—especially those belonging to outward-facing sales and marketing staff—are a critical component to driving high-quality traffic to a company's website from LinkedIn. Thus, at least in some areas, department leads have a duty to ensuring employees' LinkedIn activity fully support and promote the company's marketing efforts. Here again, there's a balance to be struck between the employee's individual professional direction and his/her role in company evangelism online.
So, How Can Marketing Encourage Effective LinkedIn Summary Writing?
The first answer to that question is to get the marketing department involved in setting expectations for employee social media. Unfortunately, too few companies enable their marketers to get actively engaged with setting expectations and/or policies on how employees should use social media to drive interest in the company. In today's world, especially with LinkedIn, marketing managers need to have a relationship with the HR department and all relevant employees in setting guidelines and assisting employees directly with effective LinkedIn management.
If this first part can be accomplished, then the second answer to the question is to ensure that Marketing is well-equipped to help employees write to multiple audiences. That's the focus of the rest of this article—how you, as a marketer, can help employees write their summaries without sacrificing their own priorities for professional development.
101: LinkedIn Summary Writing is Multi-Audience Writing
Most people are only ever taught to write to a single audience. For example, press releases are written to or for media editors; social media posts are usually written to your existing followers; investor briefs are aimed at investors. From high school essays to professional writing, most good writing is single-audience writing because ultimately, it's clearer, more concise, and focused.
That's part of why LinkedIn summaries are intimidating and difficult to write for employees: they are inherently multi-purpose and multi-audience. In order to write a good LinkedIn profile summary, most users have to buck some of the best practices that define most other kinds of writing and learn to address multiple audiences with clarity, authenticity, and transparent intent.
Writing for Multiple Audiences: Finding Common Denominators
The biggest problem with LinkedIn summaries is that the various audiences you should be writing to are seemingly opposite—business prospects for your current job vs. recruiters or supervisors for your future role (whether at a new company or not). That's a lot of people to have to please in less than 200 words.
The key with writing to audiences with different priorities is to first look for common denominators of what all audiences are seeking.
In the case of LinkedIn summaries, every relevant audience wants to see that you're an ambitious individual. They also want to see depth of knowledge, breadth of interest, and a focus on doing high-quality work. These attributes aren't contained in a description of what you do now; nor are they contained in description of what you'd like to do. Instead, a strong professional summary should prove that you have these kinds of qualities by forming a personal statement of your outlook on what you strive for—a mission of sorts.
You can think of this mission-like writing process as "solving for X." If you know the common denominators that all audiences are looking to find, then write in a way that proves you have them by returning to what personally drives you and your success.
Describe What You Do and What Your Goals Are
Of course, writing for multiple audiences does not mean avoiding details. LinkedIn profiles are like résumés, so the summary sections should absolutely address both what you do now and what your long-term goals are.
The key is to make sure your current work and goals aren't described in limited terms—such as your job title. Especially in online career-oriented media like LinkedIn, many people express their work as who they are now (e.g. Marketing Manager at Weidert Group) or what they want to be in the future (e.g. CEO of the World). The key is to remember that effective summaries focus on what you do or want to do, not who you are or what you'd like to be. It's sometimes feels like a subtle difference, but it actually can completely change the way your audiences understand you.
If you're stuck thinking about your specific role or your desired positions, then it's difficult to "open up" the writing of your summary to speak to multiple audiences—positions and people are too finite. However, if you focus on the activities you do, the approach you take, and the problems that you solve, then people from a variety of backgrounds will see your value from a number of different perspectives. In other words, what you write in the summary section will be understood in multiple ways depending on who the audience is.
Use Keywords to Attract Your Highest Priority Audience
No matter the audience, keywords are an important consideration in crafting a strong LinkedIn summary. For instance, the best way for companies to get good leads from employee profiles is for those employees' connections to be looking for help in certain areas of emphasis. A summary is a great place to appeal to those searches with keywords.
If you've written a good 2-3 paragraphs that address how your current work applies to your longterm goals and objectives, then the way you employ keywords can help to appeal to your high-priority audience without drastically changing how other audiences understand you and your professional approach. For instance, if you're looking to promote your current company with your LinkedIn presence but also want to remain open to future opportunities, be sure that you're overall writing addresses multiple audiences, but use keywords that really fit the prospects your company is seeking.
Keep Your LinkedIn Summary Up-to-Date
Remember, you can always change your LinkedIn summary, but it's better to improve it subtly, rather than make a big drastic change. By writing with multiple audiences in mind and using techniques to appeal to each, you are setting your summary up for a gradual transition over time as priorities shift and change. Keep your summary up-to-date and continually shape its messaging to attract the right prospects and to promote the various brands you represent (including your own).