LinkedIn is a free business-focused networking platform that seeks to replicate the real-life process of word-of-mouth introductions between trusted contacts
LinkedIn has a global reach, with in excess of 225 million members, and straddles a great many industries and sectors. Because of its emphasis on trust and the depth of professional and personal detail it enables, LinkedIn is also widely used as a recruitment tool by businesses. It is a good introduction to social networking for small business owners and managers who don’t have a lot of time to commit.
Unlike many online networking platforms, making a connection with another LinkedIn member requires either an existing relationship or an introduction by a mutual contact. This barrier reinforces trust by ensuring that referrals and profile endorsements come largely as a result of who you know and not what you know.
Business-owners and managers use LinkedIn to:
Because of its emphasis on business contacts and expertise, LinkedIn is not necessarily a place to sell; rather, it is somewhere to establish and develop your own expertise, to draw on others’ knowledge and to further the connections that may open the door to sales and business development.
Setting up a LinkedIn account can require a half-day commitment to get your profile up to a useable standard and to make your initial connections.
Step 1: Go to www.linkedin.com and fill out the information fields in the ‘Join LinkedIn today’ form - name, email address and password. Click ‘Join now’.
Step 2: Compile your profile:
Step 3: Start networking:
1. Before you start
Remember that LinkedIn is very rigid in terms of its use for professional purposes, and is not a personal networking platform. Be professional.
Before filling out your profile and starting to network, work out what you want from your LinkedIn membership. A purposeful approach will help you make relevant connections and achieve your goals more quickly.
2. Make the right connections
The very wide range of members means that you could find yourself connecting with CEOs and sole traders, potential suppliers, potential customers and potential employees. The more connections you have, the more likely you are to be found by people who need you or can help you.
But how do you make those first connections, and subsequent relevant ones? It is vital to have a presence on the site that emphasises what you have to share or what you need from others.
Keep your network as relevant as possible and don’t accept or add a contact unless you can see a mutual benefit. If you are in regular contact with a connection or you have produced outstanding work, results or products for them, don’t be afraid to ask them for a written testimonial on your profile. Recommendations are a vital currency on LinkedIn and establish credibility and trust.
3. Get involved
Being an active member will bring long-term benefits. Set aside a short amount of time once a week to update your profile, to expand your network and to engage with your contacts.
If you are in the right places, you will be seen by people who share your goals.
4. Join LinkedIn groups
LinkedIn allows you to join groups in the sectors in which you operate. Crucially, these groups are for people that actively want to network. Being in a group gives you several advantages. You can search for people you want to contact, you can get in touch for free via LinkedIn messages and because you belong to the same group, the chances are you’ll get a reply.
Joining a LinkedIn group can also help you to raise your profile. You can post links to news articles and start new discussions.
There are several ways to search for people, including by name, title, location or company. If you are looking for funding, for example, you could search for angel investor, equity, venture capital or investment manager for example.
5. Monitor the competition
Are your competitors on LinkedIn? How are they using it? See which circles they are moving in by looking at their feed and the groups in which they participate.
6. Advertise your business on LinkedIn
The benefit of advertising on LinkedIn is that you can target your message at specific people — by job title and function; by industry and company size; by seniority and age; and by LinkedIn groups. Like pay-per-click advertising, LinkedIn allows you to work within your own set budget. You can pay by clicks or impressions and you can stop your ads at any time.
Maintain a relevant, good quality network of contacts by sticking with people who share common goals and interests.
For more information relating to social networks, see the Resources box on the right.