Using LinkedIn™ Effectively
Growing Your Professional Network
You've likely heard of LinkedIn™, the business-oriented social networking website that many people use for keeping in touch with business associates, clients, and former colleagues.
But is this LinkedIn's only use? Or can you use it in other ways to grow yourself professionally and help your organization to network more effectively?
In this article, we'll explore how to use LinkedIn for personal, professional, and organizational development, including how you can use it for networking and recruitment, and for keeping up with trends and news in your industry.
What Is LinkedIn?
LinkedIn is a business-focused social networking site that launched in 2003. Its main purpose is to help people network professionally. The basic service is free.
The site lets you find other business associates, clients, and colleagues whom you already know. You "connect" with them through the site, and they then become part of your network.
Once you've connected with a person, you will then have access to their list of connections – this is called your "extended network." You can request an introduction to people in your extended network through your mutual contact.
LinkedIn also provides other features including the ability to set up and join groups, and a jobs section where members can advertise open positions or apply for jobs.
Here are a few useful terms you should know when using LinkedIn:
- Connections – Connections are other registered users who you know personally on LinkedIn. Although you can invite anyone to be a connection, they will need to set up an account to use the site.
- Second-degree connections – These are the connections that your connections have. For example, you're friends with Bill, who is directly connected with his boss. Bill's boss is a second-degree connection for you.
- Third-degree connection – Any connections from your second-degree connects are third-degree connections. So, Bill's boss's connections would be your third-degree connections.
- Profile page – This is your personal page on LinkedIn. All registered users with LinkedIn can view it (unless you set it to be a private page). Your profile page can list your education, past work history, current and past projects, groups and associations, and more. Users can also forward your profile page to contacts on their lists. You can also make your profile page "public" so that anyone (even people not on LinkedIn) can view it.
- Recommendations – Your connections can write recommendations, or testimonials, for your profile. These can be a powerful testament to your business and professional skills.
- Introductions – Introductions are when a third party introduces two people who weren't currently connected. For instance, your colleague Sue and your client Dan don't know each other. You think Sue could help solve a problem that Dan is having with one of his projects, so you introduce Sue and Dan through LinkedIn. Introductions are simply a way to bring people together on the site.
There are several ways to use LinkedIn to help you grow professionally:
Networking – LinkedIn allows you to network with people and professional organizations in your industry. This helps you stay up-to-date with industry trends and share information with others who do similar work to you.
In addition to networking with people in your LinkedIn extended network, you can also set up and join specific groups to discuss ideas and share industry news. This is a great way to build your professional network further.
Asking and answering questions – Many people use the groups on LinkedIn as a kind of think tank or open brainstorming session. By offering your expertise to those in your network, you establish trust and improve your reputation as an expert.
You can also use your profile's status update to ask questions to people in your network, or share news or insight. (Your status feed on LinkedIn works in a similar way to a Twitter® timeline.)
Research – You can use LinkedIn to find out more about the people and organizations that you do business with.
For example, imagine that you're about to meet with an important potential client. You do a quick search on LinkedIn and discover that the person went to the same university as you. In fact, you know several of the same people. You now have a valuable conversation starter that will help you build rapport with the client.
Remember that your boss, and others at your organization, will be able to see your LinkedIn profile. If you update it extensively, you might want to let them know in advance. People new to the site may confuse your profile with an online resume, so you don't want them to think that you're looking for a new job!
It's an obvious point, but it's one that people forget: don't get carried away while sharing information. Make sure that you respect confidentiality, and don't give away information that could harm your organization.
You can also use LinkedIn in the following ways to help your organization grow:
- Increase visibility – LinkedIn gives your organization increased visibility for its brand, products, and corporate goals. Potential customers, clients, and suppliers can research your company on LinkedIn to see if they're interested in doing business with you. This is especially useful if your organization sells services or products to other businesses.
- Conduct research on other organizations – LinkedIn also works the other way. You can use the site to research your competition, potential partners, or new suppliers.
- Tell your company story – This company story, if told in the right way, can inspire customers and potential employees, and create an emotional connection with people. Special applications, like video, allow you to create a multimedia experience with other users. (Setting up a profile for your organization will be useful here.)
Make sure that organizational use of LinkedIn is aligned with your organization's overall strategy, and its other communications.
You can also use LinkedIn for recruitment and job-hunting.
For example, if you're looking for a new team member with a particular set of skills, or prior experience in a certain industry or company, you can post jobs on LinkedIn, or search for specific people who have the skills and experience that you're looking for. (Check people's profiles first to make sure that they're happy to be approached with new job opportunities.)
You may find this more effective than more traditional recruitment methods, depending on the position you're looking to fill, and your industry.
Many potential recruits also use LinkedIn as a research tool. For instance, suppose a person had two good job offers. Which organization will be a better match for them? What will their new boss or colleagues be like? What is the corporate culture like? LinkedIn can help them to find out.
So, as well as keeping your organization's profile up-to-date, also make sure that you own personal profile reflects yourself and your organization positively.
Remember these guidelines when using LinkedIn:
- Use introductions carefully – Success on LinkedIn relies heavily on reputation. Be careful when you ask for, or make, an introduction, and do so only if you truly think everyone can benefit.
- Always tell the truth – When discussing where you've worked and what you've accomplished, be honest, and don't oversell yourself.
- Don't gossip – Don't spread any company or personal gossip through LinkedIn. You never know who's going to read it, or where it will end up.
- Be professional – LinkedIn is used mainly for professional networking. So, stay professional at all times. Use other sites like Facebook for personal posts.
If your organization approves, add your LinkedIn profile page address to your email signature. When you email colleagues, clients, and suppliers, they'll see your link – and if they're on LinkedIn, they may connect with you. This will further expand your network and exposure.
LinkedIn is primarily a professional networking website. Although some people use the site for job searches and recruitment, it mainly helps you to get in touch with past colleagues and potential clients, and expand your professional network.
With tools like LinkedIn Answers and groups, you can establish trust with those in your network and improve your reputation, while keeping up-to-date with industry news and trends.
LinkedIn can also help your organization increase visibility for its products and brand, and can provide information on other organizations such as potential partners, customers, and competitors.
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