Q&A with Wayne Breitbarth

Your fans call you the “LinkedIn Guru.” How did you become so knowledgeable of the professional networking site?

I never really wanted to be LinkedIn, Facebooked or Twittered. It all started with a good friend of mine consistently nagging me, saying, “You have to be on LinkedIn. You own your own business.” Well, when someone tells me, a 53-year-old experienced business guy, what I have to do, well, those are fighting words.

But, as luck would have it, around that same time I was in Holland, Michigan, for a series of meetings and found myself with a couple of hours in my hotel room. I had my computer and the Internet and thought I’d try this thing since no one was watching. I surely didn’t want to admit that I was messing around with social media.

Within forty minutes, I realized the power of this site, went to Amazon.com, and ordered two LinkedIn books to begin my own official investigation. Being a CPA, I need to understand the details and master something or else I don’t waste my time. In the next two months, I studied those books, read the blogs of numerous experts, and became a student of the site.

Since that time, it has been my passion to learn everything I can about LinkedIn. My teaching, consulting and speaking, along with preparing my weekly email of LinkedIn tips, have kept me searching for more and different ways to apply the power of LinkedIn to the experiences and relationships businesspeople already have in an effort to maximize its benefits.

What is your top piece of advice for finding success on LinkedIn?

Don’t mess with it until you have a strategy. I see way too many people come to my classes and say they are on LinkedIn, but they don’t have a clue what they are going to do with it. I would rather see people strategically using networking, branding and marketing tools they understand as opposed to wasting their time answering another set of emails and accepting connection invitations with no strategy or purpose behind the effort.

Have a well-defined, documented strategy so you can measure your results or forget it. Your time would be better spent enjoying your favorite hobby or leisure activity. It doesn’t bother me when someone comes to my class and says, “Great, I get it now, but I don’t see how it will work for me; so I am going to pass.” Bravo to that person. At least he is on to the next new idea or thought about how he is going to grow his network and business.

What are some of the benefits you have seen people get out of their time on LinkedIn?

LinkedIn does many things really well, but based on my personal experiences, feedback from my audiences, and my annual LinkedIn user surveys, the five things LinkedIn users find most beneficial are researching, networking, marketing, communicating, and branding. The moment we get our profile up, most of us old-school business folk want LinkedIn to produce lots of sales. Well, that is probably not going to happen. On the other hand, those people who are spending time improving their researching, networking, marketing, communicating, and branding techniques are certainly seeing an increase in their sales.

What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when using LinkedIn?

In addition to the lack of a well-defined strategy, the top five mistakes people make when using LinkedIn are:

  1. Failure to dedicate sufficient time to their LinkedIn efforts. I suggest setting aside about two hours per week for this purpose.
  2. Underestimating the importance of crafting a dynamic, keyword-filled personal profile. I call the profile a “resume on steroids.” It allows the user to tell the world why he/she is the best in the business. It is completely keyword searchable and thus should be filled with the user’s most important keywords.
  3. Failure to recognize the importance of having lots of trusted professionals in their LinkedIn network. The number one power of LinkedIn is the ability to find out “who knows whom.” By connecting with all the people in your life whom you know, trust, and would help anytime they called, you give yourself the ability to see who their friends and business associates are.
  4. Using LinkedIn to advertise their products and services. Social media is about developing professional relationships, sharing, helping, and connecting. It is not for direct marketing. This is a novel concept for many of us, especially those in the Baby Boomer generation who grew up with in-your-face marketing.
  5. Lack of a consistent companywide message and policy. As a business owner, I like to control everything, but these social media tools are about the individual. That being said, each company needs to strategize about the message and methods they are going to use to make sure the market is not confused by inconsistent or even inappropriate messages. Also, as much as I hate having new policies, I really feel companies need to have a social media policy in place that not only talks about when employees can do certain things but also what can be said or displayed.

Social networking can be really overwhelming when starting out and even when changes are made to the sites.  How do you make networking look so easy? Are your tips really something we can all successfully follow?

This is a big issue for all of us. Who has time for a new habit that is supposed to take two hours per week? My suggestion is to set up a specific time that you devote to LinkedIn, maybe while you are watching your favorite television show or sporting event (Packers for me, please), and then stick to it. Hey—who says the Facebook generation is the only group that can multitask?

Changes are always going to be a part of this type of technology. My suggestion is to find an expert who is staying on top of it and keep listening to him/her. My blog and weekly tips give information in bite-sized pieces, making it easy for beginners, as well as more advanced users, to understand and implement the latest techniques.

You already provide so much information via LinkedIn, Twitter, email updates, workshops and YouTube videos. What made you want to gather all of your tips into a book?

Call me an old guy if you must, but for me there is something special about picking up a book while on an airplane or curled up in my favorite easy chair near the fireplace. I wanted to make it easy for busy businesspeople to learn the secrets to unlocking the power of LinkedIn in as little as three or four hours—whether at the beach, on an airplane, or while relaxing at home.

Is there a point to being on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites besides just LinkedIn? Are there some others you recommend being a part of?

Sure, but since time management is always a concern for busy businesspeople, I suggest starting with LinkedIn. After becoming proficient with LinkedIn, consider investigating the other social media platforms. Facebook is great for businesses that sell directly to consumers. Twitter is an effective tool for directing people to your website or blog. You need to decide which social networking sites will most effectively help you accomplish your goals. Do yourself a favor—develop a strategy before embarking on any kind of social networking or you may find yourself wasting a whole lot of time.

Your book is simple enough for LinkedIn beginners to understand but valuable for more experienced users as well.  How did you make that possible?

The key to providing valuable information for all LinkedIn users—both beginner and more experienced users—was the inclusion of practical, real-life examples that result from my many years as a businessman. I am confident those stories and examples will provide “aha moments” for the experienced LinkedIn users and also motivate the beginners to embrace this powerful tool.

As I was writing the book, my knowledge of and passion for LinkedIn was continually increasing. As a result, I decided to include many of those more advanced concepts and ideas in my book. More seasoned users will be able to immediately begin implementing those techniques, and the beginners will be able to see the great potential this tool provides.

Why did you include a special chapter in your book about how unemployed or soon-to-be college graduates can use LinkedIn to find a job?

As the father of three extraordinary daughters, I have experienced the full range of parental emotions—from the highs of birth, first steps, and scoring that first soccer goal, to the lows of the first car accident and less-than-stellar boyfriend. But the top-of-the-mountain moment was the phone call I received from my oldest daughter: “I got a full-time job, Dad, with benefits!”

Since many of my readers will be Baby Boomers, I know many of them are anxious to get their adult children on the road to financial independence. To assist them, I have included in my LinkedIn book valuable advice they can share with their kids about how to find a job using LinkedIn. This includes suggestions regarding keeping their Facebook account free of inappropriate material, because employers and recruiters will be looking at how they present themselves on that site. The chapter also includes tips on what to include in their profile, connecting with business professionals, and using LinkedIn to prepare for an interview.