If LinkedIn were to change their approach to monetizing the channel and switch to charging users for profiles, with additional costs for all of the add-on features and applications, would you be prepared to invest in your profile, or would you drop it from your on-line presence? I should state at the start of this post, that I have no reason to believe LinkedIn will ever charge for profiles, the opposite is the channels position, EMEA M.D. Ariel Eckstein  (@Eckie67 on Twitter.), spoke with me recently about how the regular users were the most important people to the channel, and are at the centre of every product decision made. It is after all the regular user profiles that provide the value to the paying customers, so every development has to be measured by how it will impact on user experience.

I ask the question because it is a question you should ask yourself for every free channel, application, feature or tool you use throughout social media, “If I had to pay for this would I?”. If the answer to the question is no, then you really shouldn’t be using it. If you wouldn’t pay for it, then you’re not getting any value, and if you’re not getting any value then you shouldn’t be using it.

I asked myself the same questions, and these are the top 3 features I would pay for:

> My LinkedIn Profile

No doubt about it, my profile is my second most valuable piece of internet real estate, second only to my blog. I didn’t always think this way, but the user profile on LinkedIn has become the professional reference point and sign in. It doesn’t matter what channel or location you are sourcing or networking in, whenever I come across anyone the first place I look for professional detail is on LinkedIn. The channel has become the reference source, and I know that without a profile my professional data would be lost.

Because your profile has become THE reference point, it needs to be detailed and up to date. I’m less concerned with keywords, and more with how my profile reads. While most of what you read is about keywords, Google are moving away from this in the latest algorithm, and are moving more towards local search and how content reads. Overdo the keywords and  you drop down the rankings. If it’s Google ranking you are looking for, so that your profile comes up in searches outside of LinkedIn, there’s 3 areas you need to consider:

> Get rid of the keyword repetition and move to synonyms. Try and avoid using the same words more than twice. Google now looks for similar words that mean the same thing, and ranks this above repeated words. Time to go and check out the synonyms and start rewriting.

> Google are going to be placing more importance on direct answers to questions, on blog sites this is going to mean adding a frequently asked questions page. (Look out for mine going up this week.) In LinkedIn terms I think this might just place importance back on the question/answer section. I will be looking to increase the number of questions I’m answering again by setting up R.S.S. feeds in the questions section of my topic area and answering 2 questions a day. Although there are networking benefits to doing this, the biggest value will come from linking your answers back to your profile. Not sure if this will work out this way yet, but will keep you posted.

> Content is king again, as in all of your web places. That means replacing all those keyword bullet points and putting descriptive detail in all of the sections available like summary and experience, and moving applications like your blog plug in and slideshare presentation to the bottom of your profile page.

Making these changes will prepare your profile for when Google changes the way the Googlebot crawls content and ranks it, and that your profile retains its value. For LinkedIn search, the key features will still be led by:

1) Location

2) Skills. Completing your skills section in detail is now key for your profile, and there’s plenty of profiles that haven’t done this yet. Make sure you are not one of them.

3) Job Titles. Make your job title what is being searched for, rather than something creative.

Keeping these 3 sections up to date and detailed will increase the number of times you come up in LinkedIn’s internal search or recommendation engine.

> Groups

The second feature I would pay for is groups. I don’t believe the groups work in the way they were intended. Most are not particularly engaging, with the average comments and posts  in the 100 groups I surveyed standing at a very low 4. Despite this, there’s a real benefit to belonging to the full 50 groups you are allowed to join.

> You can message anyone in the group regardless of your level of connection.

> You will come up frequently in “the people you might know” recommendation to other members of the group, which is seen as a common denominator.

> My research shows that the most accepted connection invites are when you send a STANDARD invite, not personalised, and you share a group. In my experiment this resulted in 24 out of 25 acceptances. (Interestingly, the lowest acceptance was when I tried to justify why we should connect, contrary to urban social myth.) If you want to build your network, then belonging to all of the groups you can, including the larger ones will get you the best results.

> Updates

The last feature on my “pay for” list is updates and shares. LinkedIn remains my highest referral source, but your updates need some thought to grab attention. If you have a blog application on your profile, that helps with Google juice. The blog app will automatically add your blog to your profile update, though I update manually as well. Manually updating your profile allows you to add the image from the post.  Share your updates in all the groups you belong to using the share button just below updates. When you are posting in the group remember to add a discussion point related to the post asking a question to justify your posts inclusion, and remember to answer any replies or discussions by monitoring the e-mails coming in.

There’s plenty of other features I would pay for because they offer me the best value. Over the next 12 months I see the LinkedIn profile becoming the default sign in on many web places and social sites where professional information is required.     Given that your profile will become your professional reference point, extra attention is needed as to what it says.

LinkedIn are moving in to a unique position in the social media mix, both for sourcing and reference, I would pay for it, would you?