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Monday Mornings with Madison



In the final installment of our series on using social media for business, let’s look at LinkedIn, which is the most powerful professional networking tool available today. LinkedIn allows you to connect with business contacts and share information in a highly focused way. This is because it features a "gated-access” approach to connections, where contact requires either a preexisting relationship or the intervention of a contact. On LinkedIn, you can only connect to someone you already know or to someone who is “introduced” to you on the site by another connection. This feature serves to build trust among the service's users and results in contact lists that can be used extensively for business purposes.

Launched in 2003, LinkedIn now has more than 43 million registered users, spanning 170 industries. Users create personal profiles that feature their current positions, their professional and educational records, their interests and goals. The ability to seek and post recommendations from others brings additional credibility to these profiles. A contact network is then built up consisting of direct connections, the connections of each of their connections (termed second-degree connections) and also the connections of second-degree connections (termed third-degree connections).

In a variation on the concept of “six degrees of separation,” LinkedIn can thus allow you to gain an introduction to someone you wish to know through a mutual, trusted contact. It can be used to find jobs, people and business opportunities recommended by someone in your contact network. You can ask for advice, information or opinions. If you’re applying for a position, you can review the profile of the hiring manager and find out which of your existing contacts can introduce you. You can also join professional groups that share your interests, but in keeping with LinkedIn’s gated-access approach, group leaders review your profile before allowing you to join. This leads to targeted, useful and high-quality group memberships.

Here some of the basics of setting up a LinkedIn account, if you don’t have one, and tips on how to maximize the benefits of your existing account, if you do:

Create a complete profile      The more complete your profile is, the easier it will be for people to find you. And since people make judgments based on the quality of a profile, make sure to fill yours with accurate information that reflects well upon your professional expertise. 

Build connections slowly and carefully       Start with the people you already know. When you create a LinkedIn account, the system will ask you to log into your e-mail account. It will pull up all your contacts that have a LinkedIn account, and you can then send them an invitation to accept you into their network. This is the easiest and best way to start building your own network. One note of caution: everyone you send an invite to has the option to click on “I don’t know this person.” If you send invitations to people who don’t know you, LinkedIn might flag you as a spammer and ban your account. The same caution applies when you receive an invitation from a person you don’t recognize.  Don’t accept it: you can instead reply by asking to be reminded how you know each other.

Join groups     On LinkedIn, you can find groups focused on just about any industry or interest. Join the ones that are most appropriate to your goals.  Following the group discussions will keep you updated on news that can benefit you. It also allows you to start a discussion or post a question and get responses from hundreds of experts in your field. And it’s all free!

Promote your site or blog     LinkedIn is another way to tell people about your site or blog. It also creates a link to your site or blog, which will help bring a higher ranking by the search engines.

Ask for recommendations    You can ask your friends, clients and colleagues to recommend your work or services.  Having recommendations on LinkedIn adds valuable credibility to your profile. The easiest way to get recommendations is to give them. Review your contact list and see whom you can recommend; after doing so, ask them to recommend you.

Visit often   Spend 10 minutes every day on LinkedIn to familiarize yourself with all of its options, to keep up with your groups and to expand your connections. It’s also a good idea to check the profiles of your connections to see what has changed in their world. People update their profiles often, making LinkedIn the most accurate rolodex in the world. Use it! 

Look up your potential clients    Before you meet a new client, look them up on LinkedIn. You will learn a lot and you can use this information both as an ice-breaker and as a way to focus your conversation. Remember that they might do the same thing before meeting you, so make sure your profile is up-to-date and includes recommendations.

“A networker likes to meet people. I don’t. I like accomplishing things in the world. You meet people when you want to accomplish something.”   Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn

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