Illustration by Jennifer Wenger / amednews staff

10 tips to using LinkedIn

Many physicians create LinkedIn profiles and let them sit stagnant. But social media experts say painting a fuller professional online portrait is worth the effort.

By — Posted July 25, 2011

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The social networking site LinkedIn, launched in March 2003, predates such giants as Facebook and Twitter and even the fading giant that is MySpace. It also predated those companies to Wall Street riches, becoming the first to launch an initial public offering on May 19, with its stock jumping from an opening price of $45 to $122.70.

LinkedIn's popularity -- with its 100 million users and its investors -- stems from its focus on professional networking, with real people putting their real résumés online and connecting with people with whom they've done business. But physicians are considered one group of professionals that has been slow to join. Or, like some users, they've put up profiles and then let them remain there with no updating.

Experts say some physicians have been slow to adopt LinkedIn because it doesn't connect them directly with patients. If they're not planning to move or accept another job, they might not see the value in having their information out there to link up with potential employers.

But experts say a LinkedIn profile is easy to start, maintain and keep up with colleagues and news in the health industry. It's also a way to keep an ear to the ground for new opportunities and even new patients.

So how does a physician get the most out of LinkedIn? Experts share their top 10 tips:

1. Maintain a current profile even if you're not looking for a new job

Ed McEachern, vice president of MDSearch, an online jobs forum for physicians, said maintaining an active profile helps keep you relevant. It lets people know you are familiar with the latest technology or best practices, and that you want to be a part of a larger community. If, in the future, you find yourself looking for new job opportunities, you'll be in a better place because of the contacts you established.

2. Have a complete profile

Irene Koehler, a social media strategist from the San Francisco Bay area, said physicians have the opportunity to "wow" her with their profiles. But she's often left with the perception that the physician is either not at all tech-savvy or too lazy to finish what he or she has started. Even if a physician has no plans to interact daily with other LinkedIn users, having a complete profile will at least give people general information. Completing the summary of qualifications and work history, especially current information, will go a long way toward sending the right message to anyone who comes across your profile page.

3. Don't make the profile a cut-and-paste of your CV

McEachern said the profile, unlike a CV, should not include a list of every journal article ever written, or a list of every job held if it's not relevant to your current career aspirations. It also needs to be much briefer than a CV. Ashley Wendel, a physician executive coach from San Diego, said a LinkedIn profile has to show who you are. Rather than giving job titles, work on developing better descriptions of what you do. Bryan Vartabedian, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Texas Children's Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine, suggests looking at profiles of physicians who have similar interests and career paths for ideas on how to write your own.

4. Make your profile public

A privacy setting that a lot of people miss is one that allows your profile to be made public, Koehler said. If the option is not clicked, only your name and title will be visible to others who may be looking for you. "Be found, and be fabulous," Koehler says. Make your profile easy to find and full of relevant information.

5. Recommend people for whom you would write a referral offline

Recommendations are like the new generation of references. On LinkedIn, others in your network can write about your strengths and their experience working with you. The people you recommend can reflect on you, so be selective about whom you support. Write recommendations only for those people you can vouch for and know well. Also, be selective of which recommendations you post from others about yourself. All referrals must be approved by you before they are posted, and no rule says you have to post every one you receive. Include only those that add value.

6. Avoid "referral swapping"

Like Facebook, LinkedIn has a "news feed" that alerts your network to your online activities. So when you receive or send a recommendation, your network will receive an alert about it.

Many times, Wendel said, LinkedIn users write a recommendation for someone in hopes that person will return the favor -- kind of an "I scratch your back, you scratch mine." It's not a bad strategy for avoiding the uncomfortable solicitation of someone from whom you want to receive a recommendation. But if both parties post recommendations within days of each other, news that they did so is broadcast to the network. It simply looks bad, Wendel said. The recommendations easily can be seen as a returned favor as opposed to true testimonials of people who are highly regarded by their peers. Trading referrals isn't necessarily bad, but instead of both being written in a tight time frame, Wendel recommends waiting a week or longer to post the referral, or temporarily shut off your news feed, an option that will prevent your activity from being broadcast to your network.

7. Develop a strategy for soliciting recommendations

Some people put more weight on recommendations than others, but there is widespread agreement that quality trumps quantity. Don't send someone a boilerplate request for a referral. Take the time to write a thoughtful request, and provide hints about what you would like them to include.

For example, if there was a particular case you worked on together, your request could include those specifics to help ease the burden of having the writer come up with something to say. Whom you ask for a recommendation might depend on the career opportunities you are seeking. If you would like to give more speeches, for example, soliciting recommendations from people you have worked with on presentations would be valuable.

8. Get involved in discussion boards

"Don't just throw your profile up there and do nothing," Wendel said. "It's meant to be an active thing." What you add to a professional discussion will establish a brand and build your reputation.

Although it's good to be an active participant in discussions, Wendel advises against selling yourself or your services in discussion groups. If someone is interested in what you're selling, they will find you. The message you send in the course of starting or participating in a discussion should be consistent with your brand.

9. Separate your LinkedIn page from nonprofessional social media activities

Online tools allow social media users to link multiple sites so that when a status is posted on one, it shows up on the others. But in many situations, it's not professional to link them.

For example, when Twitter comments are directed at someone in particular or in response to something, (i.e. @JohnDoe: Yes, I agree!) those comments won't make sense to those outside that site or discussion. Because Facebook is more social, LinkedIn connections probably don't care that you're attending a baseball game with a visiting friend from medical school. But they may be interested that you and a former classmate are attending a professional conference. If the content is not professional, keep it on another site.

10. Keep an active reading list

LinkedIn allows you to keep a reading list as part of your profile. Dr. Vartabedian said he gets more comments about his reading list than any other part of his profile. "A lot of people say they learn more about me by seeing what I read." It's also an easy way to keep your profile active.

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Narrowing the search

Finding a contact or a professional group shouldn't be too hard on LinkedIn. There are thousands of medical professionals and health care-related groups with profiles on LinkedIn. Searching for people with particular professions or professional groups with specific areas of focus can be narrowed down in many ways, starting with location.

Search term: peopleResults
Health care738,046
Search term: groupsResults
Health care3,037

Source: LinkedIn, July 13

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An online opportunity

Irene Koehler, a social media strategist from the San Francisco Bay area, says that although potential patients probably don't look for physicians on LinkedIn, it is an important source of supplemental information that can provide insight on who a doctor is.

When Koehler searches for doctors and clicks on a LinkedIn profile page to find a "half-baked" profile, "that says something to me that may or may not be indicative of what that person's skills are," she said.

Bryan Vartabedian, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Texas Children's Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine, agreed. "At the core of the whole issue is creating a footprint," he said. Physicians tend to look at online mentions from a risk perspective as opposed to an opportunity. When someone doesn't have a digital footprint, it raises suspicions, because people expect to find information about other people online, he said.

LinkedIn's advantage is its powerful ability to show up high in Google searches. Thus, it's an easy way to control the message people see by creating the content they will find, with less work than other sites require. "It's like a plant that doesn't need a lot of watering," Dr. Vartabedian said.

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