If you’ve written off LinkedIn as the type of professional tool that’s only useful for job seekers, you might be surprised by what else the business-oriented site can help you do. LinkedIn offers a lot of perks for journalists, and combining these freebies with some good old-fashioned elbow grease can help you level up your reporting skills.
To explain what journalists can do to find expert sources and break stories, I spoke with Yumi Wilson, corporate communications manager at LinkedIn and associate professor of journalism at San Francisco State University, and broke down the process in five steps.
Step 1: Take the LinkedIn for Journalists tutorial.
First, sign up on the LinkedIn for Journalists group page. The short seminar takes place once a month and helps teach reporters the nuts and bolts of using LinkedIn for their trade. But the real reason to attend the session, which runs less than an hour, is that participants receive a free one-year membership to LinkedIn Pro, which normally costs $99.95 per month.
Step 2: Follow company pages.
If you cover a specific industry, LinkedIn is a great way to track what’s happening to key companies related to your beat. For example, an anonymous TechCrunch reader noticed Udacity founder and CEO Sebastian Thrun’s LinkedIn profile indicated he’d left his roles as Google VP and Fellow. After confirming the details with a Google spokesperson, this information was released in a blog post.
Similarly, USA Today reporter Scott Martin looked through job ads on LinkedIn and broke the story that Twitter hired a stock administration analyst ahead of an expected IPO—an IPO, incidentally, which the company had denied.
The Center for Public Integrity also used LinkedIn data for information on subprime lending executives who refused to be interviewed for their story. Reporter Daniel Wagner noted that chief operating officer Paul Lyons “was director of whole loan sales [at Ameriquest] until 2007, when the company stopped lending, according to his LinkedIn profile.”
“By checking out profiles of executives who wouldn’t be interviewed, they were able to get information for their story and this particular story won them an award,” Wilson added.
Step 3: Use advanced search to find sources.
LinkedIn Advanced People Search lets you search by company name, company size, titles, and keywords. A journalist looking for experts working at a specific company may find dozens or even hundreds of profiles. “They can narrow it down through Boolean strategies,” Wilson explained. That means you can add more keywords, or even exclude certain words, to hone in on specific experts.
You can also look for software engineers in specific tech companies, for example, but filter out those who don’t have enough experience if you’d like to eliminate entry-level employees. And you can easily search by a current company and a past company for potential sources that might be uniquely qualified to comment on a story.
Step 4: Save searches.
Your premium account allows you to save up to 10 searches, which can help you look for movement or trends in your beat. Sign up to be alerted on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
Step 5: Reach out to sources.
LinkedIn’s premium upgrade makes this a lot easier by allowing up to 25 InMails per month, which show up directly in a source’s inbox. In addition to InMails, the Premium account allows individuals in a group to message other members.
Sources may still turn down interview requests, and stealthy companies may not reveal any information on social that hasn’t already been covered in press releases. However, using LinkedIn to keep tabs on various industries certainly can be effective, and InMails, at least in my experience, are surprisingly effective.