Founded in 2003, many credit LinkedIn (linkedin.com) for getting the 35- to 65-year-old demographic of professionals comfortable with networking and sharing information online. After all, this age group didn’t grow up with MySpace and Facebook and certainly didn’t get to use computers in elementary school.
LinkedIn is not the new social media kid on the block, but it is a widely respected networking platform for millions of professionals. Headquartered in California, LinkedIn operates an “online professional network,” according to its website. I call this site the “Cable Channel of Social Media” because it has traditionally been vertical in its audience.
Who Is Using LinkedIn?
With more than 150 million professionals around the world, LinkedIn is a wonderful networking site where you can find, connect, and meet professionals from all walks of life.
Who exactly is using LinkedIn? Corporate CEOs, small businesses, and specific industry groups from around the globe use LinkedIn. You will find CEOs of large corporations, directors of associations, corporate vice presidents, entrepreneurs, and small business owners. Furthermore, the types of industries represented are quite varied.
And you, as an entrepreneur or business owner, now have the ability to search for and find these people. The fact that this is all free and available from the convenience of your keyboard is a bonus. In a world where it’s all about having connections, LinkedIn is a great community in which to participate.
Degrees of Separation on LinkedIn
You’ve heard of six degrees of separation, right? It’s the theory that we can connect to anyone on the planet by connecting through no more than five other people. On LinkedIn, your network is a group of LinkedIn users who can contact you through connections of up to three degrees away.
Here’s how it works: You are at the center of your network. Notice those little number icons next to the name on someone’s profile? These represent degrees of separation. As you begin searching, finding, and ultimately connecting to people on LinkedIn, you will notice this number next to names. This number refers to how many people or degrees you are away from knowing that person directly.
Let’s say you see a “1st” next to John’s name. That means that you are directly connected to John. So if you click on John’s profile and you scroll down a little and look on the right side of the screen, you’ll see a box that reads “How you’re connected to John.” For a first-degree connection, you’ll see “You” and an arrow that points directly to John’s name.
Those who are connected to your direct connections are your second-degree network. Let’s say John is connected to Mary, but you are not. On, Mary’s profile, look in the “How you’re connected to Mary” box, and you’ll see “You” with an arrow pointing to John (and all other first-degree connections connected to Mary). Then you’ll see an arrow that points to Mary, who is part of your second-degree network.
At the end of the day, as you build and build your network, you will find that we really are one to five people away from connecting to most of the people we want to meet. It truly is a small world after all – even if Walt Disney said it first.
Why You Should Use LinkedIn
By participating on the LinkedIn platform, you have the ability to market yourself, your services, and your brand. It gives you the chance to make amazing connections. In its early incarnation in 2003 and 2004, many used LinkedIn as an electronic rolodex. You would find someone you knew (or wanted to know), ask to join their network, and make a connection. Then after you connected, that person’s name would get listed in your profile. If you so desired, you could pick up the phone and call that person to reconnect and network.
Today, LinkedIn is so much more than that. It has become a much more “sticky” site where you can post PowerPoint presentations, incorporate your blog, let people know what you are reading, and tell others where you are traveling. It now even offers a place for users to put their status updates so your network connections know what you are working on.
Another reason to join LinkedIn is that it’s a great place to give and get testimonial and recommendations. You can find contractors, vendors, and strategic partners and interact with those who may not be on the other social media networks, such as Twitter or Facebook. Think of this as another networking portal to market yourself or your business as the go-to expert. You can post questions to groups, answer questions in the various group forums, share links, and even start your own group. If nothing else, think of LinkedIn as an advertisement for you and your business. Remember, you never know where your next big customer or connection will come from.
Here are even more creative reasons why you should use LinkedIn:
- It’s a place where your happy clients and customers can post testimonials on your behalf. You can also place a link on your regular website under “Client References” that links over to your LinkedIn testimonial page.
- You can share useful information to your contacts, such as posting links to your articles or to industry resources.
- You can combine LinkedIn status updates with your other accounts and further complete your social media presence.
- You can answer questions within groups or on the Q&A section to showcase your expertise without coming across as a shameless self-promoter.
- You can post your amazing PowerPoint presentations that highlight your expertise.
- You can research potential clients and prospects before you meet them.
- You can post job listings to grow your team.
- You can write and receive valuable and authentic testimonials and recommendations that will be read by your network.
- You can import your blog and share survey and poll results with your connections.
- You can create and market your events or business promotions.
Honestly, this list could go on and on! But I think I’ve given enough information for you to see that LinkedIn has become much more than just an electronic rolodex.
The Power of Groups on LinkedIn
LinkedIn currently hosts more than 1.1 million groups, including alumni groups, corporate groups, industry groups, and professional groups. In fact, name a topic and there is most likely a group for it. Power LinkedIn users strategically join groups that will help their business by expanding their connections and reach. So think first about what types of groups you want to belong to, whether it’s an alumni group or a professional networking group (that also happens to have a group on LinkedIn). Also keep in mind what other types of groups could benefit from having you as a member. Who needs your services? See if they have a group.
You can find groups in many ways, but the easiest way is to go to your Profile page and, in the main menu, look for Groups right next to Contacts. Click Groups. Note as a new user you will not see any groups, but you will see the light-blue Groups Directory on the left. Go there and click Find a Group.
Now look on the left side and click All Categories. You will see alumni, corporate, conference, networking, nonprofit, and professional groups. There are so many groups! Go through and find some that appeal to you and your business. I suggest that you look at the types of people that are members and view some of the discussion headers to see if they appeal to you, then join them!
To join a group, pick a category and open it. Now find a group and click “join this group.” The group manager will get back to you in either a few hours or a few days and let you know if are accepted into the group.
Making the Most Out of Joining Groups
For many LinkedIn users, after they join a group, they aren’t quite sure what to do next… so they do nothing. Yes, it’s neat that the group name now appears on their profiles, but really they aren’t getting any value out of it. Consider that there is a lot of power in groups, so we first want to ensure you get your best value out part of one.
After you join a group, the first thing to do is look at the member list. How do you do this? LinkedIn moves it around from time to time, but as of this writing it is a tab on the individual group pages. Click the Members tab and all the names and titles appear. Welcome to another new network that you have just created for yourself. If you see someone you know or want to know, click on their name, look at their profile, and invite them to connect. That is one way to begin utilizing the group for your business.
Participating in Group Discussions
Now we want to take it to the next level. In your group forum, usually several discussions are taking place. Click the Discussions tab. You should see an array of discussions. Do you see something that you can comment on? If so, go ahead and click “Add comment” and a box will appear, allowing you to make a comment. Your name, photo, and title will automatically appear to the left of your answer. By participating in discussions, your name gets out there, your expertise is on display, and you might just make a new connection.
You can start your own discussions, too. Click the Discussions, that’s it!
Think strategically here. If you are within a group that could use your services, what types of questions can you ask or what type of discussion should you start? Look at the types of questions others are posting and get some ideas. Another idea is that you can share an article or link with the group. A great place to do that is within the News tab within each group. By sharing articles and resources, you’re seen as a strong contributor to the group. You will also be seen as an expert, so keep contributing when it makes sense. This gives you great viral visibility because not only does your name and website get posted within the Discussion or News section, but the information that you posted something will also go in your news feed to everyone in your network!
Creating Your Own Group
LinkedIn is another great place to have your own group. Remember, not everyone uses Facebook. Creating your own group is another way to build credibility and market your brand to people who may not be on Facebook.
When considering creating a group on LinkedIn, think about why you are doing it. Is it to make more connections? Is it to share information? Is it because eventually you want to invite them to a conference or a tweetup? Talk to your staff or mentors and think strategically about why you are creating a group. Who will manage the group? Who will you not allow in the group? Sleep on it before making a decision.
There are several benefits to creating your own group, with control being one of them. Just think of the contacts you will make and the creativity you can apply. You can make this group into anything you want it to be. It is easy to create a group. Simply click the Groups in the main menu. Click Create a Group. You will then be led through all the steps to create your group. You’ll upload your logo, give the group name and type, write a summary, give a description, and list your website.
You can then decide if you want it to be an open group where anyone can join without approval or if you want to require people to “request to join” by answering the Access section on this page. If you decide that incoming members need to be approved, you will need to designate someone to approve them and allow them access to the group. Also, don’t forget to check the boxes to have your group in the display directory and to have all members display your group logo on their Profile pages. Doing this will create more great visibility and viral marketing for your business.
After you create a group on LinkedIn, market it everywhere. Have it on your website, talk about it on Twitter, and put it on your Facebook page. Don’t forget to mention it in places such as your business cards and your e-mail signature.
Powerful Corporate Searches and Connections
Part of the beauty of LinkedIn is that you can connect with current associates and past friends as well as business peers. Another great benefit is that you can find and connect with new people who can help you take your business both personally and professionally to higher levels.
The access on LinkedIn is often overlooked. Let’s say you would really like to connect with someone who runs a large transportation company. Let’s use Reston Limousine Service as an example. In the past, you would have had to do a lot of Internet searching or even purchase a database service to get access to the names of their employees. Today, they are at your fingertips on LinkedIn.
With LinkedIn, it’s right here. Type in “Reston Limousine Service” in the search box and, instead of searching for people, change it to a search for companies. Literally, within 2 seconds, up pops information on the Reston Limousine Service, including its website, a brief bio, and all of its affiliate companies.
Now, look at all the results you get when you click on the company profile. There are many ways you or your business can benefit from this information. Let’s say you have a small business that makes a product or delivers a service that you feel Reston Limousine Service could benefit from. Or perhaps you work for a small nonprofit and are looking for a sponsor. What if you were looking for a speaker? Going back to our original scenario, what if we wanted to consult with the CEO of Reston Limousine Service? Well, you should be able to find your connection here—or at least find the person who can recommend the best point of contact for you.
In the middle of the page are several lists of employees with job titles and a See more link to view more employees. If you continue to scroll down the page, you can see new hires, former employees, and more company statistical information. Click on a name and you will see the e-mail application open. This is where you might send that person a personal note asking to be connected and giving the reason why. Ultimately, you should take it to the next level and ask for a phone or video meeting using Skype.
All that information at your fingertips in a matter of seconds! You seriously are just a few clicks away from some important connections. These contacts are no longer just for an exclusive few.
Recommendations and Testimonials
Everyone likes a good pat on the back and acknowledgment for a job well done. In fact, studies show that one of the most meaningful gestures we can do is to give public accolades to people. If you give a LinkedIn recommendation, it will make others feel good about them and about you. A public acknowledgment is, to quote Martha Stewart, “a good thing.”
You should know that the best way to get a recommendation is to give one. On the main menu, Go to the Profile tab and you will see “Recommendations.” Click on it and you will arrive at a screen with tabs for Received, Sent, and Requested Recommendations. This is where you can keep track of your recommendations “history.” You even have the option to display it to your connections, to everyone who looks at your profile, or to no one. Now continue down that screen and you will see where you “Make a recommendation.”
You can either recommend someone from your network of connections or put in the person’s first and last name and e-mail address.
Create your recommendation and a message is sent to the individual notifying him or her of your recommendation. That person will be prompted to see if he or she would like to return the favor.
Note: Although LinkedIn calls this the Recommendation section, you should also use it to give and get testimonials. If clients mention to you a great experience that they’ve had with your business, ask them if they will write that testimonial on LinkedIn. If a colleague gives a great presentation, give him or her testimonial on LinkedIn.
Tips to Remember
- LinkedIn is a highly respected professional network with more than 150 million users.
- LinkedIn is a great way to reconnect with old and current connections while finding new ones.
- Your professional headline and photograph are two of the most powerful tools on LinkedIn because they appear everywhere. Make it work for you!
- LinkedIn has become a sophisticated “sticky” site that allows you to give updates, show PowerPoint presentations, join groups, incorporate your blog, and merge your social media presence with other platforms.
- Consider your profile as your 30-second elevator pitch that explains why people should do business with you and how you can help them.
- Use the company search feature, and within seconds you will learn the names of the company’s employees along with titles and detailed company statics.
- The best way to get recommendations and testimonials is to give them.