As a business professional, you need to become as familiar with using LinkedIn as you are with using Facebook and Twitter. Yes, your company’s Facebook page is important. Yes, sharing interesting bits of information and links to blog posts with colleagues and clients via Twitter is also important. But you’re likely to develop and grow some of your most meaningful business relationships through your interactions on LinkedIn.
For small-business owners and independent contractors, LinkedIn is a wonderful source of information and prospective clients. For larger organizations, LinkedIn serves as a great resource for finding talented individuals to approach and possibly add to their teams.
It’s kind of sad that LinkedIn has so much to offer, yet most people treat it as nothing more than an online resume. With 150 million users, LinkedIn has a rich community of experts in probably any industry that you can think of. Writers have found sources for articles by querying the groups that they’ve joined or by using LinkedIn Answers. Job seekers have followed companies that they were interested in working for and knew right away when positions that fit their skill sets became available. More important, they were more familiar with those companies than their competitors, which gave them an advantage that ultimately won them the positions they wanted.
You have to devote as much time to using LinkedIn as you do Facebook or Twitter if you want to get the greatest benefit from it.
Update Your Profile
It’s easy to update your Facebook status. Updating your LinkedIn profile requires a little more work and tends to be a lot less fun than uploading pictures to Facebook or Pinterest. But updating your LinkedIn profile is more important. It lets colleagues, potential employers and prospective clients know what you’re doing, what new skills you’ve learned and whether or not you’re looking to change careers or get more education or training in your chosen career field.
People who work in industries that require them to constantly stay up to date with changing technologies, policies and procedures, such as human resources, information technology or health care, can use LinkedIn as a means to let others know every time a new certification has been earned or each time they’ve become members of industry organizations that facilitate continued education and training.
Every time you get a promotion, you should take a moment to update your LinkedIn status. Believe it or not, this kind of information can make a difference to the angel investors and venture capitalists who will Google you should you decide to start your own business and appeal to them for funding.
Speaking of Google, updating your profile regularly and peppering it with relevant keywords – but don’t overdo it — will keep your profile showing up at the top of Google’s results list. This is particularly important for people with common names. You don’t want to get lost in the shuffle.
Be an Active LinkedIn User
Don’t limit your activity on LinkedIn to updating your profile every now and then. Become an active participant. When you join a group, take the time to drop in once in a while and participate in one of the discussions or start one of your own. You can bet that others who are participating in the discussion will check out your profile to learn more about you. And you can do the same with them.
Make sure you follow the rules of the groups you’ve joined. Most demand that members respect each other and refrain from using the discussion board for shameless self-promotion. There’s actually a promotions tab that can be used for that purpose. If used wisely, it could help you garner new business.
So, again, you’ll want to have a profile that is current, has a well-written, informative summary and few if any typos, misspelled words or grammatical errors. You want it to be obvious that you regularly review and update your profile.
Want to be active on LinkedIn even when you’re not logged in to the site? Connect your LinkedIn status to your Twitter feed. Every time you post something to Twitter, be it a link to a blog post or a pithy opinion, it will automatically post to your LinkedIn status update and, consequently, also appear on your connections’ home pages.
But don’t use that as a crutch, and don’t post anything on Twitter that you would be embarrassed to have your boss, a potential employer or one of your clients see. At least once every day, log in to your home page and post something directly or respond to something that one of your connections has posted. This provides your connections with an opportunity to engage with you directly and vice versa
Check out LinkedIn Answers and see if there are any questions posted that you can answer. If you’re a small-business owner, this could be your ticket to a new client or a referral. Just be sure that you’re giving the most accurate, up-to-date information, and don’t use LinkedIn Answers as a way to pitch your business. Just answer the question. More than likely, the person who reads it will check out your profile on his own to determine for himself whether or not you’re someone who knows what he’s talking about. If he likes what he sees, you may find yourself making a new connection.
Never Stop Connecting
Many people will tell you that it’s not the quantity of connections you have that matters but the quality. That’s true. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have 500 quality connections if all 500 are clients, colleagues, co-workers, previous employers or whatever as long as they’re meaningful to you.
Your LinkedIn groups can really be useful when it comes to finding new quality connections. And you don’t have to limit yourself to following groups in your own industry. For example, if you’re a writer, you don’t have to limit yourself to joining writing groups. You could join publishing groups, marketing groups, public relations groups or groups in completely unrelated industries such as sports, fashion, business, whatever you like writing about or have experience writing about. The members of these types of groups are potential clients, referrals or sources.
If you go to trade shows and meet interesting people, besides getting their business cards, also offer to connect with them on LinkedIn. If you host events, get the business cards of all who attend, and then set aside a block of time to sit down and send out invitations to connect. Now, here’s where you can really stand out from the crowd.
Instead of sending the generic message that LinkedIn provides, create something brief that reminds the recipient of how you know each other. Some people have keener memories than others. So, make yourself truly memorable by taking the time to create a personal message that lets the recipient know that you really want to have a meaningful relationship, not just another name to add to your connections list.
Timing is Everything
You want to log in to LinkedIn during those times when the site is most active. Afternoons and evenings are said to be the two most popular times of day. But don’t limit yourself to only visiting during those times. Every industry is different. Of course, you can’t possibly know what the busiest day or time of day is for your connections and groups if you never use LinkedIn, except once in a blue moon. Visit often, participate often and eventually, you’ll start to get a feel for what days of the week and what times of day are the most active among your connections and others in your industry.
Sometimes, those quiet times of day are just right for updating your reading list or your profile or for checking out your connections’ reading lists or profiles.
LinkedIn has a lot more to offer than most people realize. Besides giving you a place to send people who want to know your work history, LinkedIn is a place where you can connect and, in some cases, collaborate with others in your industry. It’s a place where you can learn from or teach others. It’s a place where you can share what you’ve learned from your successes … and your failures.
Remember, LinkedIn is every bit as much of a social medium as Facebook. It just operates a little differently. Facebook is used, primarily, to make personal connections whereas LinkedIn is used, primarily, to make professional connections. But there’s no law that says a professional connection can’t also be or become a personal friend. That’s the beauty of LinkedIn: It’s versatile.