After giving a workshop to a group of startups a young woman asked how she could be transparent and still protect her privacy on LinkedIn. This is an increasingly common concern. How can you display authenticity without compromising yourself? Let’s answer this question with business basics and then move on to social media.
Nobody wants to do business with a post office box number. This concept has been formalized with the requirements of the CANSPAM Act of 2003. If you send unsolicited commercial email, then you must have an opt out process and a street address for the business. A physical location is the first stepping stone to establishing trust. In fact, Stephen Covey Jr. wrote an entire book about trust – The Speed of Trust – the One Thing that Changes Everything.
If you are a startup working out of a house or apartment and you do not want to make your residence public, you have several options. The traditional approach comes from the 1970’s – a formal shared office space. Back then, a receptionist and meeting room would give you credibility. Today’s big players are Alliance Business Offices and Regus. Your experience will vary with these setups because these are locally managed. Even so, it may be a good choice depending on your requirements. One informal advantage of a shared office space is it facilitates interacting with like-minded entrepreneurs. The disadvantage is that you have no control over the other companies sharing the office space. If you work in the area of cybersecurity, you may interact with companies with no interest in malware or insider threats.
If you elect for a traditional shared office, one way to fill that gap in interacting with like-minded companies is to align yourself with one of the business associations in your town. For example, in the Washington, D.C. area there is the well-respected Reston Chamber of Commerce. They offer the ability to interact with other technology companies through the dozens of events every year. If you would like to move that interaction up a level, The Reston Chamber of Commerce is aligned with IncSpire that can offer guidance, training, and mentorship.
An increasingly popular option is to look at incubation hubs in your town. An innovation hub is a company that provides a range of services for small companies. Frequently found in research and technology parks, the concept seems to be proliferating everywhere. If you type the term into Google Trends, you can see that in the last six years there has been increased attention to the phrase “innovation hub.”
Here in Washington, D.C., we have a wide range available. Some have a general emphasis in startups (1776); some have a focus on healthcare information technology (BioHealth Innovation); some have a focus on cybersecurity (Mach37); and one even has a focus on driving innovation into the federal government (Eastern Foundry).
Each hub has varying benefits and costs. For example, The Eastern Foundry has several levels of involvement. You can use it for the basics, as a street address, or you can add services like proposal support or even pipeline development. However, it would be remiss not to mention the added benefit of being able to bounce ideas off other entrepreneurs and seek the guidance of mentors that many of these hubs make available.
You may be in a situation that demands a dedicated office. If that is the case, then hire a good lawyer and start looking for office space. Find a real estate broker who knows of companies who have been bought out or gone out of business. These can provide incredible bargains.
BACK TO PROTECTING YOUR PRIVACY ON LINKEDIN
Now that you have a street address for your company, you can start to consider how you can make it available on LinkedIn. LinkedIn gives you full control of how much (or how little) information you may want to reveal. The general rule is that people in your first level of connection can see the contact information you provide in the contact tab. For example, let’s say you meet someone at a business meeting in San Francisco and get their card. Armed with their email address, you can politely request to connect to them on LinkedIn.
If you have provided contact information in your contact tab, then the everyone in your first level of connection can see that information. That contact information can be your business address, business telephone number, possible Twitter handle if you have one. Following the strictures of LinkedIn, if you don’t allow a person to the first level, then they will not have your contact information. However, you may provide a link to your company’s website where that information can be provided.
Potential customers are able to look at your profile in order to reinforce your credibility before they make a buying decision. If you are uncomfortable with a specific person viewing your profile, then you can block them and report them immediately. That is why you only want to accept people in first level connections whom you have met on a face to face basis. You are in control here – you can reveal as much or as little information as you wish.
In Freakanomics, by Stephen J. Dubner and Stevin Levitt, a claim is made that half of what is included in a resume is false. Today, we can fact check anything. As a result, the rule for LinkedIn is simple: you don’t have to include everything, but what you do include must be 100% accurate. Here is a checklist of what you can reveal:
TURN THE TABLES
Now, what happens when you look at other profiles? Let’s say you were at a business meeting six months ago, and a prospective customer contacts you to learn more about your offering. You set up a telephone appointment, and you prepare for the call by reviewing the person’s LinkedIn profile. You can refresh your memory and get a better handle on their background, alliances, and education. When you do this, the default setting is to show the person you are visiting your entire LinkedIn profile. However, you may be in a situation where you don’t want the person to know you are looking at their profile. This may be true when you review your competition or if there is a personal situation that may not make it desirable to let the person know you are looking at their profile.
LinkedIn gives you three options: full, partial, and zero transparency. LinkedIn’s basic account gives you general information on who has viewed your profile; a premium account will give you details. In fact, your prospective client may appreciate your preparation by visiting their LinkedIn profile.
This control even extends to skills and endorsements:
The popular movie Interstellar uses the verse from Dylan Thomas “Don’t go gentle into that good night” as a theme. It is good advice when approaching a black hole near Saturn and also when you are structuring your visibility on LinkedIn. Everyone has varying degrees of exposure for their business. You can dial up the amount of visibility you have on LinkedIn to accommodate your requirements. You can change your visibility in an instant, much like disappearing into a black hole.
If you struggle in using social media to grow your company, feel free to shoot us a line anytime for questions or just to let us know how you’ve changed your strategy for the better.