In this series we’re exploring how LinkedIn can help busy professional services executives achieve their objectives. So far we’ve covered the basics of LinkedIn, explored the tools that are available, and laid out a basic 10-minute-a-day plan.

In this installment we’re going to cover the basics of using LinkedIn to develop your individual brand. There are a couple of fundamental reasons that you may want to attend to your online brand.

  • To help drive new business to your firm
  • To find a new position
  • To avoid having someone else define it for you

In achieving any of these objectives, LinkedIn is a good place to start. As the premier business oriented social network it is often where people start when checking you out.

Here are the basic steps to building your online brand:

1. Be clear about the brand you want to promote.

If you don’t have a clear idea about how you want to be viewed by others there isn’t much point in going any further. Write some possibilities down and think through their implications.

  • Do you want to be seen as an expert? In what?
  • Do you want to be seen as a connected networker?
  • A dedicated professional?
  • A party animal? (not so much)

Once you have a clear idea of how you want to be viewed you can move on.

2. Build a clear summary statement.

This is the section right below the shaded box that summarizes your profile. After folks glance at your basic summary it is the next thing they see. It is also your chance to tell your story and frame how you want to be known. Make it punchy and to the point. If it is too long people will skip over it. It has an important section for you to highlight your specialties.

3. Round out your profile.

Complete the sections on past positions, education, any associations you're active in, awards, skills and so forth. LinkedIn keeps adding more features to expand what you can cover so there are ample opportunities to create a very complete picture of yourself. Perhaps the single most important element is your photograph. Choose it carefully to reflect the image you want to project. It is shown beside all your comments, so it is no place to skimp. Don’t forget the sections on recommendations and opportunities you are interested in. They are useful to round things out.

4. Make sure you are consistent.

Check your other online profiles, such as those on your firm's website, Facebook, and online directories, to make sure they are consistent with the personal brand you want to project. Many folks will check you out in other places besides LinkedIn, so make them work together.

5. Build your visibility through groups.

Next, focus on finding and checking out the LinkedIn groups that are frequented by your target audience. This is a critical part of your LinkedIn strategy. If you know of specific individuals, check out their profiles and see what groups they belong to. Many trade and professional associations have LinkedIn groups that may be perfect. Also search for groups that may be relevant to your target audience. When you have your groups targeted, begin to post comments and ask questions. Be to the point and insightful. Just as in face-to-face networking, people will judge you by what you say and how you say it. It is easy to misjudge emotional tone in written comments, so be careful with the snide remarks. The world is listening.

6. Use status updates and Twitter or blog feeds.

These functions can help reinforce your brand message. Activity draws attention and increases visibility. Just make sure these updates and feeds are consistent with your desired image. It doesn’t hurt to show your human side, especially if that is part of your desired brand.

7. Promote your LinkedIn profile in the offline world.

If your LinkedIn presence represents your personal brand well, don’t be afraid to send people there. Put your LinkedIn address on your business card (you can edit it to be less clunky), in proposals, in presentations, and in your email signature block. You can also include it in your bio when you speak or publish and article The more you get it out there, the better.

While these steps will take a bit of time to implement, the results are typically well worth the effort. An effective LinkedIn strategy is the cornerstone of most professional services executives' online brand.

Don’t forget to check out the earlier installments in the LinkedIn strategy series: