Before You're LinkedIn, Determine Your Goals
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In his book Ultimate Guide to LinkedIn for Business, author Ted Prodromou describes how to best to leverage the networking site as a business tool. The first step, the author notes in this edited excerpt, is to determine your objectives for joining and utilizing LinkedIn.

Why did you sign up for LinkedIn? Did your friend invite you when she signed up? You may have read about LinkedIn in The Wall Street Journal, your local newspaper or a magazine or on someone's blog. Or maybe your colleagues signed up and told you to sign up too.

For whatever reason you joined LinkedIn, you are now a member of the largest professional business networking community in the world. At the time of this writing, LinkedIn just surpassed 150 million members. LinkedIn is often called a networking community, but it has now become the largest job-related website, with thousands of job postings. Recruiters and job seekers are finding LinkedIn the perfect place to connect.

LinkedIn is also becoming the largest B2B lead-generation website where businesses can connect with their ideal customers and potential business partners. It has become so much more than a job hunting website, which most people mistakenly think is its only function.

What is your LinkedIn objective? Most people don't have one when they join LinkedIn, which explains why many profiles are incomplete and show little or no activity. These members signed up because they were invited to connect with a coworker or colleague, but they aren't looking for a job or to network with others, so they rarely return. They never took the time to explore the incredible networking opportunities and professional communities.

Related: 5 Underutilized LinkedIn Marketing Tools

Even if you're gainfully employed, it's important for you to be on LinkedIn and complete your profile. Your LinkedIn profile is a dynamic electronic billboard displaying your skills and expertise to millions of potential readers. By keeping your profile up-to-date, participating in Answers, connecting with others, engaging in groups and demonstrating your expertise, you are showing the business world you are in touch with the latest trends and technologies. The more you participate on LinkedIn, the more your name will pop up in the LinkedIn sidebar and on Google, creating unexpected opportunities to help potential customers, partners and employers find you.

With the uncertain job market and corporate instability, you never know when your company will be acquired or go out of business. It's also impossible to predict when you'll be restructured or downsized out of a job. There is no security in today's marketplace, and no one is safe when corporations downsize or get acquired. If your company is acquired or merges with another business, the chances of job loss increase.

Today we have to be prepared to change jobs, or even careers, in an instant. If your LinkedIn profile is active and current, there's a good chance you will land on your feet in a short period of time if the worst happens. If you wait until you're unemployed to update your LinkedIn profile and build your connections, it will take longer for you to find your next job. So take a few minutes every day and complete your LinkedIn profile, get the minimum three recommendations, connect with some colleagues, and participate in some Groups.

Related: 7 Ways LinkedIn Can Drive More Traffic to Your Website

You should determine how LinkedIn can best serve you. There are four basic functions of LinkedIn:

  • Establishing your professional profile
  • Staying in touch with colleagues and friends
  • Exploring opportunities
  • Finding experts and answers to your business-related questions

Your objective could be one, some or all of these functions. You should have the objective of establishing your professional profile, even if you aren't actively looking for work. LinkedIn is your electronic business card that could be seen by more than 150 million professionals, so you want a complete, up-to-date profile. You never know when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will arise because the right person came across your profile in a LinkedIn search or read some of your comments in a Group discussion.

It's also good practice to keep in touch with colleagues and friends, even if it's just commenting on one of their status updates. By "pinging" your network on a regular basis, you keep your name in front of them and make it more likely that they'll consider you for an opportunity when it arises. Many great career opportunities present themselves when you least expect it.

LinkedIn is a fantastic business resource if you're doing research or looking for expertise in an unfamiliar area. You will receive great advice from many experts in a matter of minutes by posting a question in the Answers section of LinkedIn. In the past you would have to hire a consultant to help you navigate unfamiliar areas of expertise. Today you have access to thousands of subject matter experts at your fingertips who will gladly answer your question for free in the Answers section. Many times you will end up hiring the consultant who provides quality recommendations or advice; I know because I was hired many times after I answered questions.

Related: Building Your LinkedIn Network

Ultimate Guide to LinkedIn for BusinessThis article is an excerpt from Ultimate Guide to LinkedIn for Business available from Entrepreneur Press.