How to use and get more out of LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the social networking site for professionals. But how do you best utilise the services on offer? Below are some tips and tricks for helping you get the most out of LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is the social networking site for professionals. But how do you best utilise the services on offer? Below are some tips and tricks for helping you get the most out of LinkedIn.

(You can also get help on at the LinkedIn Learning Centre.)

What you’ll read in this article:

  • LinkedIn helps you find solutions
  • LinkedIn and Twitter Partnership: Do's and Don'ts for Users
  • Integrate LinkedIn With Outlook
  • The Right Way to Request New Connections
  • How to Use "Company Follow"

LinkedIn helps you find solutions

By David Spark

Every day in business, you're either looking for a solution to a problem or you want to be the solution to somebody else's problem. In an effort to achieve those two goals, we network. Online social networking has become the de rigueur method used today--and sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn offer the promise of extending your reach and making useful business contacts.

But the efficacy of online social networking for business has been debatable. When you begin, you often give far more to the community than you receive, and it's hard to separate business networking from networking to build personal connections. While some argue that personal networking adds value because it helps you increase your contacts, others shy away altogether for fear of getting sucked into unproductive activities like endless instant-messaging and following Twitter feeds.

And there's no simple formula that indicates how much time we need to spend on social networking sites in order to see results with an increasing number of useful contacts and improved business growth. Nevertheless, as successful networkers argue, it's good, even important, to get started so that the contacts are there when you need them.

Build Your Presence

Three of the most popular social networking applications--Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter--have risen to become standard tools that are used across all industries and interests. While setting up a complete profile on these applications should be one of your initial default actions, it's more important to talk to connected people in your industry and ask them what services they're using. Your industry may have specific user groups in niche sites that connect businesses with consumers. As just one example, if you're in the restaurant or hospitality industry, you'll want to be on--and follow--Yelp.

A complete profile is welcoming, so be sure to take the time to fill out all the public information, from past job history to current employment, that you want people to know. An incomplete profile screams, "Since I didn't have time to finish this profile, I don't have time to participate in this social network or to talk to you."

Being easy to reach means, as well, providing direct contact information, such as your IM addresses, Skype user name, e-mail address, Twitter name, and phone number. You should make yourself easy to find by including appropriate keywords in all your profiles. For example, if you work in solar power, include words such as "energy," "sustainable," and "green." Your discoverability will be tied closely to your blog, if you have one, as well as to your LinkedIn profile, which will rank very high in Google searches, especially if you customize the public URL with your real name.

One important note: Don't discount the networking value of your e-mail signature. Beyond your position and e-mail address, include in your signature both your best contact information and links to your blog and LinkedIn profile. People you contact will want to investigate who you are, and if they like what they see, they'll want to follow up.

Clean Up What's Already Online

You probably already have an online presence on a variety of sites. You should definitely clean up inactive profiles and compromising content, says David McClure, producer of the Graphing Social Patterns conference, which focuses on the business and technology of social networking platforms. McClure recommends that you search your name on Google, Spock, and Zoominfo to see what undesirable items are readily available for you to remove, such as embarrassing photos. You should also find old, inactive accounts and delete them.

If you find something truly damaging, you can send a request to the poster to remove the information. Both Spock and Zoominfo will update or delete personal information on request.

And in the future, be careful what you post online, whether it's a photo, a blog post, or even a public bookmark. All such items can be tied back to your online profiles and be easily seen, especially if you subscribe to a life-streaming application such as FriendFeed.

Grow Your Network

To help you quickly realize the benefits of social networking, most services will assist your network-building by scanning your contacts (via your uploaded contacts list or by logging into your Web mail account) to see who's already using the service. For those already on, you can easily invite them into your network.

The next step is usually to spam the rest of your contacts with an invite to join the social network--but think twice before you select that option. Not everyone you know will appreciate being spammed, and such messages tend not to generate many accepted invitations.

Other ways you can grow your network: Repeat your address-book scan periodically, not just because you add new contacts, but because people already in your contacts database will eventually join these services. Also, you can rewrite the generic greeting, "I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn," with something a little more personal. It'll result in many more accepted invites.

After you've begun to grow a network on Facebook, you should check the "People You May Know" option on the front page to look for people with whom you may have friends in common. Repeat this step periodically, as the results will likely change every time you try it. LinkedIn has a similar "People you may know" option that scans for people you may have worked with.

Lastly, if you think someone you're inviting may not remember you, send a personal invitation explaining how you know each other. Don't rely on the blanket invite.

Once you're all set up, you should begin to get out in the real world and use both your social network's calendar and the listings in event sites like Upcoming and Workit to find events of interest to your business. Facebook will also help you find pertinent events with alerts on your feed about parties that many of your friends are attending.

Most people don't follow up when they exchange business cards. You should. Get through them quickly by purchasing a business card scanner--such as one from CardScan--that will import contacts straight into the contacts database you maintain in Outlook or other client. Write a follow-up note via traditional e-mail or through an invite on one of the social networks. Lastly, think like an e-mail marketer and set up or hold your e-mail messages to be sent the next morning (at 9:30 or 10, say) for the highest probability of being read.

Manage the Flow of Information

Your next step should be to sign up with RSS feeds, so you can stay on top of hot industry issues and know when someone is talking about you. This is the key to discovering solutions for your business needs.

You also might want to set up Google Alerts to receive e-mails for mentions of hot industry terms and your company name in the mainstream news.

Naturally, this will generate an onslaught of information that will you have to sift through, and many users can get bogged down plowing through all that data at the expense of actually participating in any networks. Over time, you'll discover which of these feeds you need to follow and which ones you can delete.

Tools for Building Your Brand

To build your own personal brand online, you should keep in mind your objective of broadcasting your ability to provide answers to others' questions, and stay focused on providing value to your community. At first you'll be giving a lot more than you'll get back, but be unstinting, advises Chris Heuer, cofounder of The Conversation Group, a social media consultancy. Over time, your audience will acknowledge your contributions, and you'll see returns.

To start the process of contributing, begin by watching and listening to the conversation on Twitter using the Twhirl application. Twitter is an outbound communications tool that can quickly morph into a conversational tool not unlike IM. When someone asks a question, jump in and provide recommendations. If certain users start clogging up your feed with useless non-business-related information, don't hesitate to stop following them.

You can also incorporate tools you're already using outside of Facebook into your Facebook profile. For example, if you use FriendFeed, install the FriendFeed application. You can also cross-post your Tweets (Twitter updates) onto Facebook with the Twitter application.

To get into the groove of participating in conversation in the blogosphere, follow the 4-to-1 rule: Comment on four posts for every post that you write, recommends blogger Adam Metz, who offers social media strategies on his blog MetzMash. You can also build your industry expertise by answering questions on LinkedIn Answers.

While LinkedIn doesn't live and breathe on a daily basis like the rest of the suggested tools, it is a 100-percent business-oriented application. It is best used as a résumé substitute. Instead of forwarding a Microsoft Word document, forward your public LinkedIn profile.

To beef up your LinkedIn résumé, include at least one to three recommendations for each position in your profile. To get those much needed references, write recommendations of past managers and people you supervised, says McClure. If they're still good contacts, chances are they'll write a reciprocal recommendation for you.

Who Should You Network With?

Good networking isn't about seeing how many friends you can boast on your Facebook profile. It's about connecting to the right people and getting them to know about your products and services. Here are a few tips on how to find the top people in your industry.

Follow the hot lists, such as those put out by Crain's, Forbes, Fortune, and other business publications. These magazines always have lists of the top and up-and-coming executives. Scan the lists and see who's relevant in your industry, and then follow the content these executives create through Technorati searches, blogs, and Twitter. If you're very interested in having them recognize you, comment heavily on their posts and Tweets, and provide valuable information. Over time they'll recognize you as a contributor, and you'll be on their radar. When you're ready to approach them for something you really want, they'll be more receptive to your plea.

Sites such as Squidoo and About provide forums for people to showcase themselves as experts in almost any subject across all industries. You can create your own area of expertise on these sites, but it's best to begin by following the sites' self-professed experts. Talk to them directly. Find out who they're connected to and where they get their information. People love to share their daily media appetite.

You should also reach out to people who comment on your blog and follow you on Twitter. Those people are hot leads. Respond directly to them and ask them to tell a little about themselves and how they ended up commenting on your blog or following you on Twitter. If you sign up for a service like MyBlogLog, you can find other members who are reading your blog, even if they don't leave a comment. You can reach out to them as well.

Reach Out

The last rule of business social networking: Don't hesitate to introduce yourself to someone. Use LinkedIn to search your network for contacts at specific companies you're trying to reach. If you don't have an "in" but are dying to meet someone you've discovered, you should go ahead and reach out. While compliments always help, don't just send a fan letter; give them an engagement point to begin discussion. Tell them who you are, how you discovered them, and why you're interested in opening up a dialogue.

Over time, as you and your contacts scan one another's profiles, blogs, and Web sites--often in real time--dynamic opportunities are bound to arise. To realize online social networking's benefits, you'll have to find your own balance of scanning and broadcasting information. It's a comfort level that will likely change as your needs change over time.

Next: LinkedIn and Twitter Partnership: Do's and Don'ts for Users

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