(By Gil Gerretsen) One of my clients recently fired a senior executive because they found a "moonlighting" profile on Linkedin, which violated their employment agreement. Yes, it was a dumb mistake and that employee should have known better.
However, that event triggered a discussion in one of my business networking groups, and also a chat with one of my friends, about people having multiple personal profiles on Linkedin. People seem to have various opinions on the matter and, since I am known as a "marketing guy" they asked my opinion.
I answered that this question comes up frequently, so let's take a moment to consider why someone might create more than one LinkedIn profile. There are only two reasons for doing so: Innocent mistakes and purposeful deception.
INNOCENT MISTAKES: Some people forget about an old Linkedin profile, or forgot the email they used to set it up, so they just created a new one and left the old one sitting out there. Fortunately for those people, Linkedin now makes it pretty easy to merge old or forgotten profiles, and you should rectify the problem as soon as possible if this applies to you. Failure to do so could bit you in the butt, as you will see in a moment.
PURPOSEFUL DECEPTION: Other people, however, purposely create multiple Linkedin profiles. I understand that people sometimes need to be creative to make ends meet. They don't want to mix up their different business or career efforts so they create separate Linkedin profiles for each initiative. They'll tell me they are trying to reach and build a network within two completely different target audiences. I often encounter this with people who have are looking for a new job while still holding their current job, or with people who are trying to establish a business while also looking for a job.
MY ANSWER: My answer is always the same. Whatever you do, do NOT create more than one LinkedIn profiles! Most people don't seem to realize that having more than one personal profile is against the LinkedIn End User Agreement. You are NOT allowed to have two separate LinkedIn accounts. Linkedin is constantly scanning for such violations and many users are also reporting violations when they find them. If you are discovered, LinkedIn has the right to shut down all of your accounts without further notice.
HERE'S WHY: LinkedIn is about networking. It is not your personal website or online catalog. The value of LinkedIn is showcasing who you are connected to, how you can give value to them, and what you can ask for in return. Multiple profiles defeat the purpose of LinkedIn, which is to create an easy and friendly venue where people can expand their network, recommend each another, facilitate introductions for one another, and learn from each another. If you have multiple profiles, each one would have its own set of connections. If your connections were split between your two profiles, your overall network, value and influence would be fractured. You wouldn't be able to make introductions across your full network. Also, how would you know who should be connected to which account? Networking is hard enough without having a split personality!
YOU'LL GET CAUGHT EVENTUALLY: Remember the guy I mentioned at the outset who got caught? In our online world, potential employers and customers will generally check you out before engaging you in person. Part of that exploration will include your social media presence. If you have multiple Linkedin accounts, they'll almost always show up. If they look like an innocent mistake, there will be little consequence. However, if it looks like purposeful deception then your honesty and character will be called into question. Job offers may not be forthcoming or potential client engagements will fritter away. Nobody wants to hire or work with someone who is comfortable obscuring the facts.
THE BEST WAY: I recommend that you keep it simple and combine multiple profiles into one for the purposes of Linkedin. You can have multiple business websites, Twitter accounts, and Facebook pages if you want but restrict yourself to one personal Linkedin account. LinkedIn is not a company profile, it is a personal profile. If you own multiple businesses, use the Linkedin business pages for them and link your personal profile to them. Don't try to "BE" the business.
SO WHAT IF YOU HAVE MORE THAN TWO POSITIONS? You have to choose. If you are looking for a job while also selling real estate, then that’s who you are right now. You can’t hide. Nor should you! Focus on the position where you will get more leverage on LinkedIn. In other words consider your target audience. If they are more likely to be on LinkedIn for one of the positions, than focus your profile on that one. Your personal brand must be singular and precise. People will always remember you for one thing, and you'd better know what that one thing is! That one thing becomes your brand. If you try to create more than one personal brand, you will end up with none.
WHAT IF YOUR SIDE GIG JEOPARDIZES YOUR JOB CHANCES? First, ask yourself how much business LinkedIn gets you for your side venture. Then ask yourself how many job interviews you can get with LinkedIn. If Linkedin works well for your side venture, then perhaps you shouldn't be looking for a job. However, if you NEED the job and your side venture doesn't get new clients from LinkedIn, AND having it on your profile might hurt you, then take it off. Let your other productive channels do the heavy lifting for your side gig. With that said, however, if mentioning your side gig in your profile doesn’t affect your employment prospects (and chances are it won’t) then be open and honest. Have a paragraph for both your career and your side gig in your summary and create custom links to both in the links section.
THE HEADLINE SHOULD BE SINGULAR: The headline is the most important piece of real estate on LinkedIn. It shows up in a lot of places, so you want to make sure you don’t confuse people with information about completely different ventures. For example: “I’m a CPA and a Massage Therapist." What? Very confusing, right? Pick the one that is most important and relevant to your connections on Linkedin.
THE SUMMARY SECTION: If the target audiences for both of your jobs are on LinkedIn, then choose one for the headline, but add information for both in the summary. You have lots of space here, so this is a good place to explain your two positions in more depth. You also have one experience section for each of your positions, with even more space to explain what you do!
CONCLUSION: Limit yourself to only one profile on Linkedin. Analyze which position makes sense to focus on. Tell the rest of the story in the details.