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LinkedIn: A cool tool for the sector

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This May, LinkedIn celebrates its 10th birthday. At the end of 2012 the social networking site had over 200 million registered users worldwide. Around 6% of that number, some 11 million people, are in the UK, making this country one of the site’s biggest markets.

Yet a 2011 survey by The Stage revealed that this resource is chronically underused by the theatre industry. While 85% of the 10,000 survey respondents said they used Facebook and 34% said they used Twitter, only 14.2% reported using LinkedIn. But, interestingly, for professionals over the age of 35 working in the backstage and technical theatre sector, it’s a different story, with a quarter of people saying they used the site.

[pullquote]Your LinkedIn profile and connections can also be helpful in terms of what they say about you, giving a more in-depth perspective than a CV and covering letter alone[/pullquote]

So what are professionals in this field getting out of LinkedIn and what might younger people hoping to advance in the backstage and technical sector stand to gain from the internet’s top professional network?

For a start, LinkedIn is purely for professionals. Whereas Facebook and Twitter can be used for work purposes, that’s not their primary function, so if you’re looking to connect with colleagues, LinkedIn is almost certainly going to be the most effective option. It is there purely to benefit your career.

With the onus less on status updates and more on keeping your profile – essentially an online CV – up-to-date, it’s far less of a drain on time than other social networking platforms. For many in the backstage and technical sector, as well as those in vocational training, who spend relatively little time at a computer, but still want to stay connected to their industry, this is a real boon.

It might also explain the higher incidence of LinkedIn use among older professionals, suggests David Brownlee, general manager at the Theatrical Management Association. “When you’re perhaps in more mature circumstances you’re dealing with people who may not invest the time in social media,” he says. Brownlee has more than 500 LinkedIn connections (the site does not give specific figures above this number) and comments that “out of all social media platforms it’s the one I absolutely rely on”.

One of the key benefits of LinkedIn is that it allows you to stay in touch with colleagues and professional connections no matter where their careers may have taken them. As Brownlee puts it: “You move on, they move, and LinkedIn is a brilliant way of just keeping in touch with them and being able to get back to them, reengage when it can be useful”.

The breadth of networking made possible by the site is also a big plus. Pauline Tambling is managing director of the National Skills Academy for Creative & Cultural, a membership network of creative industry professionals and training providers. She values LinkedIn because it allows her to have “connections across many sectors”.

This is particularly useful when it comes to job hunting (or hiring, as the case may be) in the backstage and technical theatre sector, with employers able to reach out to individuals with particular skill sets, and candidates able to put their skills to use in varied fields. Gary Thorne, head of theatre design at RADA, was recently approached via LinkedIn by a performance events company looking for a design graduate for a specific project. Having just received another LinkedIn message from someone looking for work, he put the two in touch. LinkedIn makes the process of connecting people “very easy”, he says.

Your LinkedIn profile and connections can also be helpful in terms of what they say about you, giving a more in-depth perspective than a CV and covering letter alone. “You can be aware of people over a period of time,” says Tambling, “particularly if they do things like pass on your messages or engage in conversation on social media. You can get a sense of them.” Brownlee goes further, describing how when he’s hiring, he’ll often check out the LinkedIn profiles of shortlisted candidates: “You can see who they are linked into and if it’s somebody that you know and trust – then having an informal word is far more useful than any formal reference that they may provide.”

Even if you’re not actively looking for work, the platform can be a handy resource. LinkedIn groups, some of which are open access and some of which you have to ask permission to join, offer opportunities for picking connections’ brains on all manner of work-related topics and can be fantastic forums for general discussion. Plus, by joining a group such as Independent Theatre Artists and Producers or Digital Interactive Theatre, you’re broadening your network. This might be particularly useful for people early in their careers who are perhaps less well connected than more established professionals.

Whatever your area of expertise, whether you’re right at the start of your career or already respected in your field, the message is clear: it’s time to get connected.

Have a look at The Stage Media Company’s LinkedIn group here

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