LinkedIn has become an important business channel, not only for individuals to showcase their professional credentials, but also for companies seeking to promote their value proposition and to establish or manage brand awareness.
LinkedIn is no longer simply a social media tool that enables corporate executives to put themselves in play for a better job under the guise of “networking.” LinkedIn also is no longer just a digital marketplace for consultants, freelancers and agencies seeking new clients. For better or worse, LinkedIn has become part of the world’s due diligence process: a public resource that enables employers, customers, regulators, competitors, prospective employees, referral sources, vendors, creditors, shareholders, research analysts and journalists to look beneath the covers, and to establish an opinion (or decision) not only regarding individuals, but also the companies they work for.
Although LinkedIn provides companies with an opportunity to present a basic or enhanced (for a hefty fee) corporate profile, what most businesses either fail to recognize – or are reluctant to address – is that the content, quality and consistency of individual and collective descriptions of the company embodied within their employees’ LinkedIn profiles can have a significant impact on brand perceptions. (These brand implications are less significant on Facebook, which is not generally viewed as a business channel.)
To illustrate the point, simply in terms of brand clarity and consistency, here are 5 different ways (grammatical shortcomings and typos included) that High Street Partners – an 80-person Boston-based consulting firm – describes itself through various LinkedIn profiles of its employees:
“High Street Partners is an international business services firm. We simplify the management and control of international operations, empowering our customers to capitalize on their growth opportunities in foreign markets.”
“High Street Partners (HSP) is the leading professional advisory firm in the international expansion space. We offer a range of cross-border finance and administrative services to organizations with new or existing global operations, including entity set-up, payroll, accounting, tax compliance, advisory and HR services.”
“High Street Partners provides international business services to companies operating overseas. These services include international accounting, tax, global cash management, HR and compliance solutions that mitigates a Company’s risk when operating in foreign markets (www.hsp.com.)”
“Our cross-border solutions enable the HQ finance and HR teams to quickly and efficiently implement expansion plans, establish appropriate entities, get overseas employees paid, and navigate unfamiliar overseas tax codes and compliance regulations.”
“Providing financial, tax and compliance services to companies in their international explansion.” (sic)
There are (at least) two fundamental issues involving LinkedIn:
- The employees’ right to describe themselves any way they see fit on social media sites, and
- A company’s right to protect its brand reputation through accurate and consistent descriptions of the enterprise that are posted on social media sites by its employees.
Although the underlying issues related to freedom of expression and corporate intrusion frequently serve as catalysts for heated protests and endless debate, there is really no good reason why both employee and corporate interests cannot both be served, if the process is managed in a reasonable, respectful manner.
At the risk of over-simplifying an issue that can quickly escalate to union grievances, CEO town hall meetings, picket lines and national media coverage, perhaps the company’s Chief Marketing Officer can initiate the change process with an internal memo along these lines:
Dear Valued Employee:
We are encouraged to see that so many of our staff members are using LinkedIn to develop professional networks. Increasingly, social media tools like LinkedIn are playing an important role in personal and corporate life.
While we recognize and support your personal right to participate in social media sites, we would like to ensure that the descriptions used in your LinkedIn profile to describe our company are consistent with the guidelines we’ve established to enhance understanding and appreciation of our corporate brand.
Toward that end, we would greatly appreciate your cooperation in using only the approved description of our company for your LinkedIn profile. This company description is located on Page 3 of our Employee Handbook. In fact, we have recently added some additional suggestions regarding LinkedIn profiles, which you may find helpful.
Thanks for your support on this important issue. If you have any questions or concerns on this topic, please let me know.
Your Friendly CMO
An alternative approach regarding brand presentation in employee LinkedIn profiles is to do nothing. Maybe it’s an issue that’s too insignificant or considered not worth the time. But companies with enduring world-class brands understand that everything matters. That’s one reason why you never see a dirty UPS or FedEx delivery truck.