LinkedIn is a business networking tool. Some people see it as the business world’s equivalent of Friends Reunited – allowing you to reconnect with old workmates and schoolmates. To others it is the business equivalent of “six degrees of separation” – demonstrating that you are never more than six degrees away from anyone you want to meet. In reality, LinkedIn proves you are probably no more than three degrees away.
1. Use the “six degrees” ideology to meet people you want to target.
If you want to contact someone at a specific company, you can look for them on LinkedIn. Search by company and surname, to see if they appear. If they do, LinkedIn will show you how you are connected to that person. If you want a formal introduction, you can ask the person in your network who knows them to introduce you. If that chain is two or three people, LinkedIn lets you follow the chain, asking each in turn to pass on your request for an introduction. You can also just ask people if they want to connect with you, but anonymous connection is likely by many to be rejected – it’s akin to just forcing your business card into someone’s hand.
2. Use LinkedIn Answers (accessible under the “More…” menu)
Much like Yahoo! Answers, LinkedIn Answers allows anyone to ask a question and for anyone else to post a reply. If the person asking the question likes your answer best, they can rate it as Best Answer, and you will then be regarded as an expert in that area. LinkedIn Answers are indexed by Google, but bear in mind the Google cache doesn’t index the full name of the person asking or answering the questions – only first name and first letter of the surname. You can add usefl links to your answers, but bear in mind if you are spamming, you are asking for a bad reputation.
3. Be polite – always
If you display anger, frustration with others, aggression or rudeness, you are advertising negatively against yourself. Do you want to do business with someone who is miserable, rude and perhaps likely to complain about you or do you want to do business with people who are pleasant and welcoming? Rudeness is a badge you wear on your reputation if you aren’t careful.
4. Complete your profile – make it keyword focused
LinkedIn tells you the percentage of your profile that you have completed. Complete as much of it as you can, including placesof employment and education (which help ex colleagues and clients find you and connect with you – lots of friend connections can lead to lots of recommendations). Ensure your description under your title says what you do, including services you offer. People may search LinkedIn for a “tax accountant” in Johannesburg, for example, and if you are in Johannesburg and you have “tax accountant” in your profile, you’re likely to show up in results. If you have customer recommendations too, that’ll encourage people to look you up.
5. Scattergun networking is a bad idea
Don’t just connect with anyone and everyone. You can either employ a trusted partner technique or you can go for volume of connections, but even a volume approach requires a communication strategy. You may, for example, build a reputation for being a good introducer – helping your contacts find other contacts. In this case your large network will appreciate your facilitation skills. If you go the trusted partner route, you will keep a more defined list of contacts you perhaps know in person or have done business with, rather than arbitrary contacts who may be useful one day.
6. Get recommendations that are valid
Getting recommendations on LinkedIn allows potential contacts to see what others think about you. A good way to get recommendations is to give them to your contacts and ask them to do the same in return. Beware, though, of reciprocal sycophancy. If people can see you and a contact just bigging up each other, the recommendation may be disregarded and un-trusted. Recommendations should be genuine, honest and meaningful – and especially relevant to the services you are trying to sell.
7. Join and chat in LinkedIn Groups
There are groups on LinkedIn for thousands of subject areas, and for geographic areas. Join groups relevant to you and your industry and get involved in discussions. Just like classic Internet forums, discussion is a good way to build your reputation and become known.
8. Use status updates, but quality beats quantity
Use the status update feature to drop notes or little promos for your network. They will see your status posts on their home page. You could post a link to an interesting bit of news, or promote an event you are running or link to your latest newsletter. Remember though, if you are posting status updates all day, every day, you will be an annoyance and end up being removed from people’s networks. One way to avoid this is not linking your Twitter account to your LinkedIn account. If you tweet a lot, your LinkedIn status will crowd out people’s LinkedIn home pages. If you do use Twitter all day, don’t link it to your LinkedIn account.
9. Do your research
Just as your presence on LinkedIn allows people to make judgements about you, you can do the same about others. If you are meeting or pitching to a company, or if you are about to go for a job interview, use LinkedIn to research the people you are speaking to. Find out about the company and, especially, see if you can speak to anyone at the company in your network to find out useful information. You may, for example, be surprised to find that someone in your network used to work at the company, or knows someone who does.
10. Use interactive tools like polls and recommended readers.
You can create a reading list on LinkedIn using Amazon’s database. It’s nice to recommend books to people – it also lets them gauge your interest or creates a talking point. You can also create polls, allowing people to vote on any issue you ask about – just for fun, or to fulfil a business need. Creating areas for interaction are good ways of attracting more of the right kind of contacts.