LinkedIn is currently the largest professional network where individuals connect with prospects, employers research information on new candidates, and a mix of knowledge is relayed. Currently populated by over 20 million users and growing at a million members per month, the average age of users is 41 and there is at least one executive from every Fortune 500 on the site.
From a business perspective there are three basic methods of using LinkedIn:
- Growing your network
- Sourcing experience and information
- Promoting a brand (individual or business)
ESSENTIAL ITEMS AND GETTING STARTED:
Have a strategy
Some people “jump right in” to Linked in and lose a lot of potential benefits from the very start. Read through this entire article and plan on spending at least an hour (or more) browsing around LinkedIn. Think of LinkedIn as a virtual cocktail party, and take the effort to connect some dots in your plan before sticking your foot in your mouth.
Creating a robust profile
Your professional brand can be polished in many ways. LinkedIn is a community model, the information you reveal will often be viewed from hundreds of different perspectives. You should only include resume information that is relevant to the goal you are trying to reach, if you are a business coach – drop off those entrees from fifteen years ago that have irrelevant entries about being a restaurant manager. Streamline your information down to precise bullet points that highlight your talent and accomplishments. Most importantly, if you have had a change in your goals, make sure to update the way you are selling your personal brand.
Your Foundation Network.
If you are not on LinkedIn, chances are a few of your professional friends are not either. You should have a list of twenty professionals you currently have good relationships with, and immediately do a search for them on LinkedIn. If they are not present, forward this article to them and ask them to join you online; if they are present- ask them to write a recommendation or testimonial for your current work. Many professionals on the LinkedIn network are qualifying you based upon what others have said, and without some initial foundation here you cripple your efforts.
- Karma goes a long way
While establishing your foundation network, realize that it is a two way street. Many professionals will reciprocate a worthwhile reference or testimonial if you take the time to write one about them beforehand.
- Keep Your Network Clean
The people in your professional network should be assets, individuals who have good things to say about you, connect you to the right people, and help grow your professional brand. In that mindset, if you wouldn’t be interested in introducing a person at a live event as a professional friend, you probably shouldn’t be listing them on your LinkedIn network either. All of these individuals affect your online reputation and many of them actually detract from your brand. If someone should glance at your online network- they should be thinking “wow, this person knows some great people.”
Growing Your Network
The age old saying “its about who you know” is literal truth on LinkedIn. It is not about having a massive number of fans or virtual friends. Your network is about connecting with other connectors, people who can introduce you into real world relationships that can benefit your business. You may want to immediately “grow out” a network of 1000 professionals… but hold on and trim the fat. Keep high-quality contacts and grow other high quality contacts.
- It may be professional, but it really is personal.
When you add someone to your network, take the step of making a personal connection. Immediately write them an e-mail, drop them a phone call, or invite them to lunch. Go outside of the normal “canned introduction” that LinkedIn provides and establish yourself as a real person. In order to do this, take ten minutes to read through the person’s profile, blog, and company site so that you can talk sensibly about what you can do for each other. The key here is mutual benefit. Don’t go banging on doors selling vacuum cleaners and canned product pitches, sell yourself into a relationship and make a connection first.
- Utilize the “inner circle” introduction.
Don’t go blindly asking for people to add you to their network. Use introductions from people you know. Most professional have an “inner circle” of friends and family- typically only 20 to 50 strong. These inner circle networks have strong relationships often established over years, and if your inner circle introduces you to someone in their inner circle- the introduction is worth its weight in gold.
- Business Cards – left vs right pocket.
If you attend a social or networking event and receive a few business cards, take a simple step to organize your networking clutter. Make a decision to put really uninteresting people in your left pocket… and really useful people in your right. Take a moment the next day to e-mail all your contacts and do two things – 1) invite them to continue your conversation and 2) establish a networking connection on LinkedIn.
Sourcing experience and information
A key benefit of LinkedIn is the communication of knowledge. As a professional, you have access to 24 / 7 expertise from your direct network and from the global community. As part of your “LinkedIn Strategy”, take a few moments to consider the follow:
- Understand the Economy (and value) of Information
Turning to your professional network for expert opinions and recommendations represents an ability to leverage thousands of dollars in free information and to educate yourself on complicated business decisions. If you have a network of only 50 professionals and each of those professionals have a network of 50, your immediate network has a foundation of 2500 providers who can offer ideas, questions, and insight to your current problems. As the economy of information increase to 100 professionals with 100 contacts each, you reach over 10,000 information providers who can streamline hours off your workload and may even save you months of effort by avoiding common industry pitfalls.
As an example of this benefit, I asked the question at LinkedIn “What are the best blogs, how-to, and guide sites out there covering the latest Web 2.0 / social media trends in regards to business development?” and within 24 hours received six answers. I could have spent countless hours searching for the information I received in the answers. (You can read more in-depth about that question and its results in this article: 123 LinkedIn Social Media Answers.)
- Asking questions:
Narrow down your inquiry as much as possible when looking for an answer. If you don’t, you run the risk of the community answers hi-jacking your question and going down a path you didn’t intend to travel down. Whenever possible, provide informational links to help inform people reading your question so that they can provide a clear and relevant answer. Going through the extra step of detailing what you know (or don’t know) will help expert members respond to your question at the appropriate skill and informational level.
- Answering questions to find information:
One of the easiest ways of sourcing information is to help clarify another person’s question. Community interaction can help take a rough statement and polish it into a diamond. By participating in on-going conversations, you have the ability to steer answers in a direction that can provide value to you, while at the same time educating readers on points that you have already answered. Even as someone who is not an expert, it gives you the opportunity to state what you believe to be true and someone can validate your understand or identify that you have the wrong information. In any case, offer a thank you: someone who is spending the time to provide free information and clarification of your thoughts is an asset worth acknowledging.
Promoting a brand (individual or business)
Everyone loves a little self promotion, but understand that LinkedIn IS a social network. Before you go beating down every door and shamelessly pitching what you have to offer, realize that there is a cost associated with any worthwhile relationship- you must offer something to balance out what you are taking from the individual (or the community.)
- Become an Expert
By answering questions from the LinkedIn community you can earn “expert points”, these add over time and eventually push your profile higher than other professionals in your field. This added exposure increases traffic to your profile and helps establish your knowledge in your industry (just like keeping an expert focus blog), and you can earn a little green star on your profile alerting community members to your knowledge.
- The Real World
So now you have a networking empire of dozens (or hundreds) or great people… what do you do with it? You use it. If you add someone to your network, take the time to make a personal connection. Invite your world into interactions that include you. This could range from professional mixers to evening get-togethers, a cup of coffee or dinner someplace new, or just an invitation to some healthy conversation.Most importantly, use your network. Your professional network is a highly reactive marketplace. If you need someone to re-design your house, ask your network for a referral to someone they know. (If you need someone to help with online business promotion use me!) By utilizing professionals in your network, you help establish mutual connection and return what you have benefited from.
- Take your network and make it a community.
Just a few focused professionals can take a network of 1000 people and turn it into a thriving community of business exchange. By scheduling repeat and consistent contact, a network contact will evolve into a community relationship. By forming groups on like-minded topics such as the 123 Social Media LinkedIn group, professionals have the chance to establish methods of routine contact for each other. Professionals within local geographic areas can also form groups for city professionals to join, which also gives them the ability to network within group interests.
- Don’t wait for someone to network, pick up the phone and invite something to happen.
- Use the system to find new contacts and take action.
- Share your expertise and knowledge.
Leave a comment if you found this information useful or if you would like to have a follow-up article on some of the more robust features found in LinkedIn (advertising, business groups, etc).
If you use Outlook, you can download the LinkedIn Outlook plugin here.
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You can also join the 123 Social Media group on linked in by clicking here.
or just read more at the LinkedIn blog.