Friday, March 13, 2009

10 Tips for Using LinkedIn

A lot of people ask me about the social networks I use for B2B marketing and public relations. In truth, I only use one for this purpose - and that's LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the B2B social network. I think I joined LinkedIn when it first came around. At the time, I had a Friendster account too, and was trying to decide which one to use. I picked LinkedIn. Good choice.

When I started using LinkedIn, less than 10 percent of my network was in there, but I still found the service to be valuable. Fast forward to 2009, and just about everyone is using LinkedIn in the business world (even if they've just set up an account after giving in to all the peer pressure).

I have made the assumption in the past that everyone knows how to use LinkedIn. Then I'll mention a tip to a tech-savvy friend, and they had no idea they could do that. So here's my stab at 10 Tips for Using LinkedIn, from my own experiences:

1. The SEO Factor - search for "Jeremy Porter" in a search engine, and there's a good chance my LinkedIn profile will come up. Now it might seem like a vanity thing to do SEO on your name, but how do you think people find you? They search for you on the Web. Why not make it easy? LinkedIn pages perform great in search engines, but there are a couple of things you can do to boost your value. For starters, create your own vanity URL through LinkedIn. This is how I got the URL. When you can include a search term in the URL, it makes the page more relevant in searches. Second, link to your LinkedIn profile whenever you can. I've done this on job search sites, Twitter, and other pages to increase the number of inbound links pointing to Jeremy Porter's profile. For example, this blog post links to my profile.

2. Answer Some Questions - while a lot of the LinkedIn Answers can be a little spammy (like Yahoo Answers, if you're familiar with that). There are usually a couple of good questions out there that you can answer, depending on your expertise. When you answer questions, you share your expertise with others - expanding your reach and positioning yourself as an expert. If your answer is voted as one of the "Best Answers" for the question, you'll show up in all kinds of searches in LinkedIn.

3. Join a Group (And Join the Conversation) - there's now a group for everything on LinkedIn. You may want to seek out some groups related to your interests to find others with similar interests. This has been a good use of my time, as I've met countless people in the Atlanta community through groups. Don't just join any group you see though - pick ones that you're most interested in, you'll get more value out of your effort. If you join too many groups, you might turn people off. Of course, you can opt to only display certain groups you belong to on your profile, reserving other memberships for those in that group. I do this with several more obscure groups I belong to.

4. Complete Your Profile -
I'm always surprised by how many people don't complete their profile all the way. This is the single most important thing you can do on LinkedIn. It's the basis for all the connection recommendations, and it's the key to showing up in searches. It serves as your virtual bio or resume, and gives people instant access to your credentials.

5. Add a Picture -
people want to put a face to your name. Make it easy for them by uploading a photo. Pictures are worth a thousand words in LinkedIn, as they are everywhere else.

6. What Are You Reading? -
LinkedIn Applications launched in the past year. My favorite new application is the Amazon widget, which lets you share what you're reading with others. I've received tons of feedback from people that share the same reading interests as I do. In a way, it's much like a business book club for me. It's a great way to keep up with what others are reading too.

7. Find Alumni & Former Co-Workers -
this has been one of the most valuable uses of LinkedIn for me. I think I've connected with most of the people I went to school with - and I've greatly expanded my personal network by getting to know a lot of the alumni out there. You'll also be surprised by where people you used to work with work now. LinkedIn automates this process for you, suggesting people you might know, based on your profile. Take advantage of the suggestions and get to know more people. That's what LinkedIn is all about.

8. What Are You Doing? - some people think status updates are a waste of time, but I've connected with dozens of people based off updating my status. I've said things like "heading to Connecticut to see my family," and had friends in my network say "I didn't know you were from Connecticut, so am I." There are a lot of common ties that bind us. LinkedIn makes it easy to discover this at a much faster rate. The status update is a good tool for this.

9. Who Do Your Friends Know? - some people choose to hide their friend lists from others, but most are open about their Connections on LinkedIn. I've spent some time reviewing the friends my friends have in the past, and have connected with many people I wouldn't have thought of off the top of my head.

10. What's My Connection? -
there have been countless times when I've tried to get in touch with a hard-to-reach contact. Maybe it's a high-profile journalist or a C-level executive at a big company. LinkedIn has been a great tool for finding a way in the door. Simply search for the company name (or the person) and you'll see your degrees of separation to those people. It's much easier to get your foot in the door from a mutual connection than cold calling the secretary. Now keep in mind, you can't abuse this privilege - you need to have a good reason to contact the person, and you need to have a good relationship with the person you're asking for an intro from.

10.5. Provide Recommendations (And Get Them) - everyone has "References Available Upon Request", but LinkedIn lets you put them front and center. Have you worked with somebody that you really liked? Why not provide an endorsement for them through LinkedIn. This type of good karma can often come back to pay dividends for you. Just be sincere and honest in your praise of others - it's a reflection of your reputation and credibility as well.

11. Ask for Help - One more tip for you. If you need help - an answer to a question, quick feedback on a topic, or a suggestion for a new hire, use LinkedIn. Either create a question, a poll or put the question in your status (such as "looking for a graphic designer to help us design a new website"). You'll be surprised how quickly your network or the community-at-large will come to your aid.

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