Shama Hyder moved to Dallas, Texas from Bangalore, India almost 20 years ago. While her father drove a cab and her mother worked at a dry cleaning company, Shama threw herself into high school academics, determined to ensure their hard work was justified. She earned a full-ride to the University of Texas at Austin—the result of many cobbled-together scholarships. Upon graduation, she entered the workforce with a master’s degree in Organizational Communication and Technology, a blog and a personal list of best practices for social media. Unfortunately, though she was ready to dive in to digital marketing, she discovered the industry was not only difficult to get into—it actually didn’t exist.
Traditional marketing firms had not yet begun taking social media seriously, and so Shama, undeterred, moved back to Dallas and started a digital consulting firm herself. Funded with $1,500 from her personal checking account, Shama founded the Marketing Zen Group. She populated her blog with instructional content on digital marketing for businesses, and the inquiries and speaking engagement requests started to roll in. She built a team of 30—keeping the company remote; “our clients are all over the world, so why not our team?,” she says. She also wrote a book, The Zen of Social Media Marketing and recently launched her own web TV show, Shama TV. By its first birthday, her company had grown 400%, and just three years later, they reached the $1 million mark in revenue. Today, the company is recognized as one of the leading digital marketing agencies by both the White House and the United Nations and boasts an impressive clientele across industries. The Zen of Social Media Marketing is going into its fourth edition, and Shama has been named a “Top 30 Under 30 Entrepreneur” by Business Week, Forbes, and Inc.
In her book, and on her site, Shama writes extensively about the importance of marketing in the digital age. We asked her to tell us about marketing your most important venture—your career; and Shama’s first step? A solid LinkedIn profile.
“LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network—people are signing up at the rate of more than two members per second, with students and recent graduates being the fastest-growing demographic on the site,” she says. “With that many people joining, it can be hard to stand out from the masses to attract the attention you deserve.” Prepare to stand out.
1. Establish a cohesive personal brand
In competitive markets, you have to sell yourself, and LinkedIn makes it easy. Before you start updating your profile, decide exactly how you want to position yourself within your industry: are you a seasoned professional trying to find new clients or an ingénue with diverse experiences to bring to a new field?
After deciding how you want to brand yourself, make sure every piece of information you include reinforces this image. An easy way to do so is to include photos: I match my profile photo across LinkedIn, Twitter and my Facebook account to increase brand recognition across platforms. These photos should all be crisp, high-quality and professional—no party pics or selfies allowed! Including a respectable headshot can get you up to 14 times more clicks on LinkedIn.
Perhaps most important is your personal summary: while many opt to skip this section, they are neglecting to utilize all the tools at their disposal. This is the section to overtly state what makes you a rockstar in your field and throw in some good, SEO-friendly keywords so people can find you when they search. If you’re in a creative field, humor may be a good idea—use your best judgment.
2. Be thorough and accessible
Fill out as much of your profile as is relevant and make it public, because you never know what quirky detail may endear you to a recruiter—perhaps you share the same alma mater or belong to the same professional group.
Include your contact information in the appropriate section—you want it to be easy for recruiters, potential employers and clients to contact you, even if they aren’t LinkedIn-savvy.
3. Add value to your network and build professional credibility
Continue updating even when you’re not actively looking for a job. Many people join LinkedIn to find a job and then disappear until they begin the job-hunting process all over again. While doing this can find you results, you’re not truly using the site as well as you could be. LinkedIn profiles usually end up high in search results, making it a great site to create a cohesive brand. I use LinkedIn Pulse to publish posts about digital marketing, because that’s my expertise. I’ve accrued more than 8,500 followers, so my company and I are constantly in their feeds.
Remaining active on the site can also help you establish credibility within your field. Show off your knowledge by sharing industry-specific articles, original blog posts and by participating in groups.
List some skills and have contacts endorse you for them. While the recommendations feature is a bit more credible, those need to be solicited from previous colleagues, bosses or teachers. A quick way to get some is to endorse people in your network. Many will return the favor—but beware of endorsing skills that you haven’t personally witnessed; if your contact isn’t up to snuff, your own credibility will be damaged.
4. Avoid the generic
Customize your URL to a variation of your name. LinkedIn profiles are great for business cards, and vanity URLs are cleaner and easier to remember.
The headline is precious real estate on LinkedIn. By default, it will revert to your most recent job title and employer, but that’s redundant—not to mention bland! Instead, use this space as a concise summary of the skills that set you apart within your industry. This is a great place to drop some of those keywords. If you’re stuck, ask yourself: what do I want people to search for to find me?
LinkedIn is not a resumé, so don’t format it like one. Rather than listing 3-5 bullet points copied and pasted from your CV, use your words to tell the story of yourself. While it won’t work in every field, in more creative markets, humor can win you points with recruiters. Show that you understand the level of professionalism required as well as how to gauge the appropriate tone for your industry.
5. Leverage the platform to show off your successes
LinkedIn has a great multimedia section that allows you to upload your past work. You can include videos from personal projects, slide decks from presentations, articles you’ve written, websites you’ve created, essentially anything you’ve done professionally can go in this part of your profile.
Use the multimedia section as an abridged portfolio and show off 3-5 diverse examples of your work so future employers can see your potential before even speaking with you one-on-one.
Photo Courtesy of Lauren Conrad