If you had any lingering thoughts that social media was just a "fad," you may want to let those go, particularly in light of LinkedIn’s recent IPO -- with a valuation of $4.3 billion.
I’ve been following the development of online business networking for several years, particularly at the inception of sites like Ecademy.com, Ryze.com, and of course LinkedIn. While there are many competitors to LinkedIn, it has certainly for now risen to the top of sites devoted primarily to business networking.
I use a variety of social networks to interact with colleagues, associates, and friends, but LinkedIn has some features that set it apart from the rest. LinkedIn is a way that many of the members of my off-line network (BNI -- Business Network International) have stayed in touch with each other in the online space. As a person in the "500+ connections" category, I use LinkedIn as a way to disseminate the many articles I write every month, as well as to promote books and publications. Here's how I use it and what I recommend to others.
1. Connecting with More People
I've spoken to countless entrepreneurs who have doubled or tripled their business because of the relationships they are able to make on LinkedIn. With the ability to view detailed profiles, become connected to people via a shared acquaintance, and to post updates about one's business or career for these connections to share, a huge number of the barriers to connecting with people in different geographic locations simply don't exist to members of LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is also a well-known as a resource for both job seekers and recruiters. The site lets businesses pay to post jobs and sells enhanced profile and services to jobseekers. Successful recruiters rely heavily on networking and LinkedIn to find candidates for open positions.
2. Participating in Groups
LinkedIn's Groups feature is a wonderful way to meet others who share an affinity, whether it be an industry, cause, or an employer, and to have an online arena for possible exchanges. Being a member of the same group as someone else removes the barrier that LinkedIn ordinarily imposes that you must personally know someone to send a message or invite him or her to connect.
LinkedIn's Groups feature might just be among its most valuable, especially when used effectively to build influential connections. Participating in a group -- by asking questions, suggesting topics, answering questions, or recommending another member's answers -- is a way to build a more personal connection. For example, I mentor a large number of entrepreneurs who want to better their business writing skills, meeting with them on a regular basis via telebridge. These "mentees" have also formed a group on LinkedIn, where they can share writing opportunities, or get reviews from peers on a new piece they've written.
Participating in groups can take as much or as little time as you choose. For maximum impact, choose group discussions that are highly popular, judged from the number of responses.
3. Capitalizing on Search Engine Optimization
LinkedIn profiles show up very high on search engine results. The more links you add to your profile, the higher one's ranking may be in search engine results. LinkedIn allows you to incorporate two very important links to a profile: websites and a blog. Adding these to your profile not only builds your profile's link count, but lets you promote your site or sites. I use this feature to highlight my own website, BusinessNetworking.com.
4. Tying in a Twitter Connection
LinkedIn easily dovetails with Twitter. Indeed you can adeptly integrate Twitter with several social networks using Twitter's application programming interfaces: I cross-promote content I have written across my various social networking accounts. Every article I write can be seamlessly shared via my Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn status postings.
Tying your Twitter account to your LinkedIn profile (achieved by clicking a box), allows you to promote your Twitter profile easily through LinkedIn.
5. Building and Enhancing Credibility
LinkedIn may well become the first place everyone will look to determine the business profile of an individual. LinkedIn allows a professional to showcase a collection of printed works or publications, recommendations from other LinkedIn users, company affiliations, and work history. When I want to know more about someone I've just met, I can get quite a bit of information about them by reading their LinkedIn profile. I can see where they've worked, or what they've done in the business world, and I can see what others think of them by reading recommendations that others have written about them.
Since most professionals do not stay in the same job for a lifetime anymore, their LinkedIn profile can continue to capture their work history narrative.
LinkedIn also allows for profiles of companies and brands, which can be cross-connected with the profiles of the "humans" associated with those organizations -- including executive management, the founders, and the employees.
These days, a professional's worth is frequently judged by the quality of his or her network. So LinkedIn is particularly vital for today's entrepreneur, demonstrating knowledge, expertise, experience, social capital, and the breadth of one's network.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.