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Career development: LinkedIn for planners

LinkedIn logo
LinkedIn is considered to be the social media site for professionals. But, asks business and marketing journalist Rachel Miller, how do you use it, and what does it offer planners?
LinkedIn has become the de facto social media site for professionals, with more than 15 million users in the UK, and ambitious planning professionals are taking full advantage of all the opportunities it offers.
LinkedIn is far more than an online CV — the so-called “Facebook for business” enables you to make valuable connections, keep up with industry news, learn from others, and recruit the best staff. In short, it can help you do your job better.
But LinkedIn is also a powerful career-building tool, helping you to grasp new opportunities and build your reputation in a fast-moving and highly competitive world.
Here’s how to get the most out of LinkedIn:

1. Make sure you can be found

The first thing people do after meeting a new business contact is to check them out on LinkedIn. If they can’t find you, they may not take the professional relationship any further — you’ve just made it too hard for them. They may even be wondering whether you are a bona fide professional.
Your LinkedIn profile has to work hard — make sure it is compelling, up-to-date and has a professional picture. If you run your own consultancy, you can also set up a Company page and highlight examples of your work on Showcase pages.

2. Get networking

Building a following on LinkedIn takes time and discipline. When you meet useful contacts — including clients, partners, suppliers and other planning colleagues — always follow up with an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. Keep in touch by responding to their posts and sharing useful content with them. It’s best to be helpful rather than sales-y.
LinkedIn’s advanced search function allows you to search for new contacts using keywords and you can also find people using their email addresses. If you want to connect with someone you haven’t officially met, it’s worth asking a mutual contact to introduce you.
LinkedIn etiquette
- Introduce connections to each other
- Disable notifications when you are making lots of changes to your profile page – otherwise your connections will get a bunch of annoying updates
- Nurture your contacts by replying to messages promptly and responding to their updates
Write recommendations for people that you rate.
- Make your connection requests look like spam with a one-size-fits-all approach – come up with a personal message every time
- Ask new contacts or strangers to endorse you
Talk about your social life. LinkedIn is not Twitter or Facebook — no one wants to hear about what you had for lunch or what you did last night
- Post too much. It can be annoying.

3. Join professional planning groups

LinkedIn discussion groups allow you to become part of the wider planning conversation and to find out what’s going on in your area. A good place to start is by searching for your local RTPI group. There are also RTPI groups for specific communities such as young planners and transport planners. (Search for and join 'The Planner Think Tank' – our new LinkedIn group.)
Being a part of these industry groups can raise your profile, but they are places to share, not to show off. It’s worth taking your time before you make any comments so you can gauge the culture of the group. Once you get involved you’ll need to keep checking in with the group on a regular basis. You can also set up your own groups if you want to position yourself as a thought leader in a particular area.

4. See how you rank against your peers

Premium members of LinkedIn can use the ‘Professionals Like You’ function — as well as the ‘How You Rank’ feature — to see how they stack up against their sector peers and to find the cream of the crop. Check out the best profiles to get inspiration for your own and start making valuable new connections.

5. Use content and endorsements to build a following

One of the best ways to establish your credentials — beyond your CV — is to post and share useful content. LinkedIn has started to open up its publishing platform to key bloggers and soon that feature will be open to every LinkedIn member. It’s also worth encouraging your network to endorse you for your skills — the best way to do this is to endorse others. You can also ask contacts for testimonials and recommendations.

6. Find the best new recruits — or a new role

Whether you are looking to make a move yourself or you need to recruit a new member of your team, LinkedIn can help. The site has become one of the most important tools for recruitment because it lets you see beyond the CV. If you are recruiting, look for mutual connections on LinkedIn so that you can find out more about a candidate from a trusted contact.
LinkedIn is often the first place you will find out about new job opportunities and specialist recruiters post details of planning jobs on the site. But getting a new job is not just about checking out LinkedIn’s job tab. You’ll need to be getting everything else right on LinkedIn too — your profile, recommendations, contacts and discussion groups — to maximise your chances.

7. Advertise to a niche audience

The best thing about advertising on LinkedIn – unlike other social media sites — is that you can target your ads. For private-sector planning firms, a well-targeted campaign linked to a top-notch landing page on your website could bring in valuable new business. Your targeting can be based on sector, location, company size, job title, skills and even LinkedIn discussion groups so you can be certain that your advert is reaching the right people.

How I use LinkedIn: the private consultant

David Bainbridge
"The past three years and it has proved to be an incredibly useful professional tool. I frequently use the LinkedIn mobile app on my iPhone and access the site at least once a day Monday to Friday and sometimes on a Sunday as well.
Primarily, I use it to maintain my professional profile and to manage my growing network of contacts. But I also use it in a number of other ways. I regularly check updates from my connections on the home page, including likes and comments. I also check status updates — useful when people change jobs or take on new project roles.
I find the updates from other planning professionals absolutely invaluable — they help to contribute to current best practice and debate in the property world and in planning and development in particular.
LinkedIn has been directly useful to me in my work, especially where I have found out about planning consultations and where I have been able to follow contacts that have moved jobs.
In addition, I regularly post my own updates about planning and development matters, including consultations, appeals and court cases.
I am active within several discussion groups on LinkedIn, including our own Bidwells Planning Services group. Other groups that I belong to include Property Week and Estates Gazette. I have also used LinkedIn to flag up vacancies within Bidwells.”
David Bainbridge is partner in the planning division of Bidwells.


How I use LinkedIn: the public sector planner

Phill Skill

“Initially, I joined as I was getting requests from consultants and planning agents and felt I might be missing out on the next big thing.
Since joining I have been underwhelmed by its relevance to the public sector planner. It appears to be a professional version of Facebook, somewhere members can share the joy of their latest appeal success or acquisition.
The local authority planner’s successes and achievements are traditionally subservient to that of the council. Whilst private sector colleagues have but one master – the applicant – it is more difficult for those of us who serve the community and the client. To crow about a successful project, even award-winning ones, may be seen by others on LinkedIn as a slap in the face to the local community, and vice versa.
The public sector planner has to be circumspect about his affiliations and it is increasingly difficult to take part in exaggerated linkages. Once we’d swap business cards. Today we swap LinkedIn details so we can accumulate the largest number of ‘friends’. I only link to people I have met and share an understanding with.
But LinkedIn does allow users to see connections and associations – who is happy to work with whom. This can be used to draw up shortlists for tendering, but in this electronic world more councils are moving to e-procurement where local connections are less important.
As my days in the public sector draw to a close, I am more likely to use LinkedIn to prepare for consultancy, as I do for getting on the conference circuit.” 
Phill Skill is head of planning at Stroud District Council
Planning-related discussion groups on LinkedIn
The Planner Think Tank
Our own group to discuss and debate issues relating to content in The Planner magazine.
The RTPI’s main group has more than 9,000 members, but there are a variety of regional and young planners’ groups, too, as well as groups for health and transport planners, and those preparing for APC. 
The Urban Planning Group
A private group with more than 42,000 members that is open to anyone working in the urban planning professions.
City and Town Planning
This private group is dedicated to discussions about city and town planning and has more than 10,000 members.
UK-based Town Planning Professional Group
This group is 3,000-strong and it is open to planning professionals (members of the RTPI and graduate planners) in the private and public sector. It also has a job board that features new town planning roles.