The difference between a worker and a professional – and why it matters

Being a professional is a state of mind – and a state of mind that is hugely valuable for marketers to engage with

April 15, 2016

I was asked recently what LinkedIn means when we use the term ‘professional’ to describe our members. It’s an interesting question. Being a professional used to mean that you had a very specialised set of skills or qualifications, or that you had to meet particular ethical standards (such as those of doctors or lawyers, for example). More recently, it’s been used to mean upwardly mobile, white-collar office workers. I’d argue though, that being a professional means something broader than this – and much more empowering. It’s less about how you earn a living and more about the way you think and feel about earning a living.

When I think about our professional audience, I don’t just think in terms of people who have particular jobs or particular skills; I think of people who have a particular approach to growing and applying their skills in order to fulfill their aspirations; who see their working life as a journey where they are constantly learning and developing. This distinction matters to marketers, in particular, because it means the professional mindset is often very different to the state of mind associated with just ‘being at work’. Here are three of those differences that help to explain why, when it comes to influencing people’s choices and behaviour, it’s the professional mindset that you want to engage:

The professional mindset is open to new possibilities

When we look at the types of content that people engage with on LinkedIn we find them investing their time in becoming better at what they do. It’s not just a question of doing the job they have; there’s a strong appetite for continuous personal development that shines through in their interest in sharing ideas, acquiring knowledge and absorbing expert opinions. Professionals may find their next job on LinkedIn, but they spend even more time focused on becoming better at the job they’re already doing. This type of curious, self-improving mindset is hungry for new ideas – and derives significant personal benefit and satisfaction from engaging with value-adding content.

The professional mindset is very rarely idle

LinkedIn serves more than 9 billion content impressions every week, with 57% of those impressions involving people accessing relevant content on their mobile, often outside of office hours. It’s testament to the fact that professionals’ interest in their work goes beyond earning an income and beyond the 9 to 5 – they are interested, stimulated and highly engaged in what they do.

The professional mindset isn’t a passenger

In part, this is because the professional mindset is fundamentally aspirational. It wants to make a difference; it’s focused on achieving things and it’s emotionally invested in the work that it does. This comes out in LinkedIn’s regular Talent Drivers survey, in which we ask our members what they value most in a job opportunity. In the Talent Drivers survey for 2015, the most popular answers were working for a company with a clear vision, and being able to make an impact in their new role. Professionals don’t just want to be taken along for the ride; their work is an expression of who they are – and that’s why appealing to them on an emotional level is such a productive strategy for B2B marketers. Their hearts and brains are both engaged in what they do.

I personally believe that, although not everyone in a job inhabits a professional mindset, everyone who works has the potential to enter into this state of mind. The professional mindset grows with increasing confidence in your skills, a feeling of control over where your career is going, and a sense of how your working life intersects with your interests, values and the type of person you want to be.

The organisation that someone works for, and the way that it invests in its people, obviously have a huge influence on how professional they feel. But as a B2B marketer, you can have a big influence as well. Sharing inspiring content that appeal to your prospects as human beings with aspirations, not just as one-dimensional personas, is a great place to start. Empower an audience to embrace their professional mindset and you’ll be rewarded with higher engagement levels and an enduring influence over the choices they make.

Topics