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How Should an SAP Consultant Take Advantage of LinkedIn?

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about marketing yourself as an SAP consultant lately. That’s not a surprise given that jobs are hard to come by, for reasons I get into in my recent podcast with SAP Mentor Vijay Vijayasankar on the impact of offshoring on SAP consulting. I’m getting enough questions on the topic of self-marketing that I’m actually about to do a webcast that addresses these themes with MBO partners and ERP-Consulting.com. There’s an understandable confusion about which social media web sites can actually help with a SAP job search. Add to that the overhype that has come into play with Facebook and Twitter in particular, and you wind up with too many web sites, too little time.

  One good starting point is to separate out active job hunting from the long term pursuit of “building a great consulting network.” For the immediate gratification of finding a position next week, the job boards are still a big factor. When you think about LinkedIn, sending frantic emails to your contacts every week that you’re looking for a new position is going to backfire. So what tactics do work on LinkedIn? And what kind of payoff are we going after?

To supplement this blog entry, I want to point you to several videos I have done on “SAP on LinkedIn” on my YouTube Channel. I will embed these into this blog entry as well, but we’re still fixing the video appearance on some browsers, so if the videos below don’t work, go to my  YouTube channel of videos on SAP consulting and career topics.

One thing I really like about LinkedIn is that you can scale your involvement to fit your time commitment. Unlike Twitter, which in my opinion doesn’t reward casual investment, you can pursue LinkedIn on a pretty minimal basis and still see some benefit. The first video in my series talks about how you can pick the level of time commitment that works for you and how to build up your LinkedIn profile:

Here’s how I see the various commitment levels on LinkedIn:

1. Business Card Level – at this minimal level of involvement, LinkedIn serves as an online business card. With this level of commitment, all you need to do is to log on once a week and accept new LinkedIn invites and respond to anything else in your inbox. At the “business card” level, LinkedIn won’t bring you many new relationships, but it will allow past colleagues to find you and may even lead to a good opportunity or two. There is one catch, however: you really should take the time to complete your profile to get the most of out this “maintenance mode” level. A good profile should have a decent level of detail about your most recent position or two, as well as at least three recommendations from other LinkedIn members. Adding an RSS feed from a blog you write for, if relevant, is another nice touch at this level. If you want to see how I’ve built my profile up, check that out here.

2. Building a Network Level – at this level, you’re looking to build your network on LinkedIn. This means growing your contact base by connecting to your existing contacts and also connecting to new ones that you may get to know, perhaps by participating in LinkedIn groups. Two things to consider: first, just building your network by adding anyone you can is not going to help. LinkedIn is not a volume game, in that if you have 5,000 contacts of people across many fields and disciplines, it’s not going to pay off much in your SAP career. It will likely turn people off who avoid those who just compulsively gather business cards online. A better strategy is to slowly and carefully build your network on a one-to-one basis by adding relevant contacts from your industry, in this case – SAP. The second video in my LinkedIn series talks more about groups and how to function on this second level of involvement:

LinkedIn actively discourages members from introducing themselves to people they don’t know, and your account can even be restricted for such behavior. But, you can still work on seeking out those you do know, and then build on those known contacts by adding yourself to relevant LinkedIn groups from your field and getting to know other group members. In addition to connecting to other SAP professionals, you’ll have the chance to get to know the SAP recruiters that spend time on LinkedIn, which will give you a chance to build trust with recruiters who can also check out your online profile and get a better feel for you than they probably could from your resume.

At the “building your network” level, you might be spending 1-4 hours a week on LinkedIn. Your main goal would be to participate in group discussions and to use those discussions as a way to get to know other group members and eventually link up to them directly. This is the level I am currently at within LinkedIn. By participating at this level for about a year and a half, my contact base has gradually grown, but most importantly, I now have personal connections with many solid SAP professionals I had not known previously.

I would put myself on the higher end of this second level because I’ve taken the step of forming my own SAP Consulting Skills group on LinkedIn. This is still a modestly-sized group of about 125 members, but the group is growing pretty fast. By creating this group, I have am drawing people into my contact base with a pre-established interest. LinkedIn groups are not difficult to set up and maintain, so I recommend setting up your own group once you master the second level of “LinkedIn Network Building.”

3. LinkedIn as Main Marketing Platform Level – At this highest level, you’ve made the decision that LinkedIn is your main online marketing platform. You probably don’t even have your own web site – all your contacts are directed to your LinkedIn profile URL. At this level, you might even run several of your own LinkedIn groups. You also participate in LinkedIn’s popular “Question and Answer” functionality, helping out other community members. Your status updates are changed daily, and people know to look for you on LinkedIn on a daily basis. You probably even email your LinkedIn contact base with regular newsletter content and work consistently to make sure that your contacts remember you and stay in touch with you on a regular basis.

Personally, I think this third level is a bit excessive for most SAP consultants. The reason? There are other places to online where you probably want to invest some of your time. Examples include the SAP Community Network, as well as Twitter or maybe a blog on your own web site. I’m not sure I would put all my eggs in the LinkedIn basket, even though LinkedIn’s future looks fairly stable at this point. But they could still be acquired at some point, and such an acquisition could change that platform in the long run. But just like any other online platform, you have to find your own comfort zone. Only pursue the communities that you feel are truly helping you. Another argument for including LinkedIn on your SAP online list? SAP’s own investment arm, SAP Ventures, has a financial stake in LinkedIn. Closer integration between SAP and LinkedIn seems inevitable. The third LinkedIn video in my series talks about the benefits of forming your own group and using features like the LinkedIn Q/A:

As we end this blog entry, we get back to the original question of how to use LinkedIn to enhance your SAP career. I hope I’ve gotten across that LinkedIn is all about using the LinkedIn platform to build your network in a thoughtful and personal way. As you build that network, over time, you can ask contacts about job openings at their company or get a better feel for the recruiters who might be able to place you. I don’t see LinkedIn as a “get a job fast!” community, so I’d be real careful before forwarding your availability to every contact in your contact base. Yes, once or twice a year that might be acceptable, but beyond that, you’re pushing it. Job boards are still the best place for instant job gratification. But a long term presence on LinkedIn, scaled according to the time you have to invest, should help you to build a better SAP network.

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