This article was first published in the June 2016 China edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

Much more than a digital Rolodex for the 21st century, LinkedIn has fast become the social network for professionals. From humble beginnings in 2002 – the living room of co-founder Reid Hoffman, to be precise – today it boasts 433 million members across more than 200 countries. Asia Pacific and South-East Asia combined account for a little over 100 million accounts, with the launch of the Chinese version, Lingying, in 2014 further accelerating growth in the region.

But what exactly is LinkedIn, and how can savvy CFOs make the most of what has emerged as a powerful and multifaceted tool? Chris Reed, a LinkedIn member with no fewer than 61,000 followers (not to mention nearly 300 recommendations), is well qualified to offer insights in this regard. One of LinkedIn’s most influential bloggers and top ‘social sellers’ in Asia Pacific, he is CEO and founder of Black Marketing, a Singapore-based agency which specialises in managing and maximising clients’ profiles on the platform. 

‘My late granddad always told me that it’s ‘not what you know, but who you know’ that matters. LinkedIn has proved him right,’ Reed reckons. 

That the firm’s services include developing personal brand profiles, ghost blogging and enhancing search engine optimisation, to name but a few, confirms LinkedIn’s potential as much more than simply a job hunting tool. Rather, says Reed, ‘It’s all about content marketing, personal branding, employer branding and social selling – LinkedIn has gone way beyond being an HR tool.’ 

Best known for the part it can play in finding and landing a new job, LinkedIn actually offers much more: from a network, support system and platform for ideas to a handy customisable news feed. All of which comes in very useful if you are on the lookout for new openings or fresh talent. Roger Pua, LinkedIn’s senior director of corporate communications for Asia Pacific, explains: ‘LinkedIn helps you connect to opportunities, from job opportunities and business leads to expanding or staying in touch with your professional network and staying informed about industry developments.’

Beyond networking, the platform’s wealth of news and views from industry leaders make LinkedIn an essential component in the professional strategy of a smart CFO. In 2013, the platform acquired news aggregator Pulse, since reworked into an integrated tool to deliver articles based on people’s individual connections, groups and activities, categorised by industry-based channels. Another recent game changer was the decision in 2014 to open up LinkedIn’s publishing content to all would-be thought leaders. This content had previously been the preserve of high-profile ‘influencers’, who in Asia include the likes of Narendra Modi, prime minister of India; Piyush Gupta, CEO of DBS Bank; Tony Fernandes, group CEO of AirAsia; and Australian telecoms company Telstra’s CEO, Andrew Penn. 

Bespoke news

For accountancy professionals, a cursory scan of Pulse’s banking and finance channel uncovers LinkedIn influencer Cindy Fornelli, executive director at the US Center for Audit Quality, expounding on public company auditing; on BlackRock’s recent redundancies; and articles on fintech. These are the sorts of insights that help CFOs stay abreast, and they are shareable via individuals’ own LinkedIn accounts, and via Facebook and Twitter. In China, users can share via the hybrid platform Weixin. 

Localisation has helped LinkedIn to grow across the region. As part of this drive, the platform is now available in eight Asian languages: simplified and traditional Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Tagalog, Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malaysia.

Get into groups

Opening additional lines of communication are LinkedIn’s groups: online communities of professionals working or interested in the same industry, who share content, post jobs and answer questions. Anyone can set one up, so communities are numerous – and mixed in quality. In choosing which to join, Reed’s advice is simple: ‘Pick active and engaging groups that your target audience is in.’

Bhairav Kothari is managing director, lead CFO and founder of SuperCFO, a network of independent finance professionals working particularly with Indian entrepreneurs and startups, and currently launching in Singapore. Kothari is also owner of the LinkedIn group SuperCFO, which he established in 2009 to provide a ‘professional networking group for CFOs and senior finance professionals, across business verticals and across the globe. Discussions in the group primarily revolve around matters that are relevant to finance professionals – from fund raising and turnarounds to forex management, the role of a CFO and regulatory aspects.’

More than 90% of the group’s 63,000+ members are finance professionals, predominantly CFOs, controllers or directors, most of whom boast at least 15 years’ experience. ‘Members can best use such groups for professional networking, seeking views on certain technical aspects, and demonstrating thought leadership through their contribution – which helps a lot if they are job seekers or consultants,’ explains Kothari. 

As with most of LinkedIn’s more respected groups, SuperCFO is selective about who can join – and who can’t. ‘Our job [Kothari shares the role of group administrator with a senior manager] is to maintain the quality of discussions that get posted. There are several spammers (and search engine optimisation consultants) who would post anything for links and to push their clients’ content. We have to ensure those are blocked,’ he says. 

Once accredited, participation in groups is important, says Pua. ‘Your LinkedIn profile should be dynamic, so stay active on the platform by participating in professional conversations. Think of it as an investment portfolio. You need to “invest” – engage your network on LinkedIn – before you can “reap dividends” – get a new job, for example.” 

For Reed, LinkedIn is ‘all about gamification: the more you do, the more they reward you’. In the context of groups, that means sharing articles, commenting on posts, and even simply giving members’ posts a thumbs-up via a self-explanatory ‘like’ button. 

Used well, LinkedIn is much more than a tool for facilitating that next career move. It has the potential to boost credibility and assert personal and corporate expertise – as well as the chance to network with the best of them. Simply signing up won’t cut it, though: as with most things, in life, when it comes to harnessing LinkedIn’s potential for CFOs and indeed any business person, engagement is everything.

Frances Arnold, journalist