3 Ways to Use LinkedIn to Grow Your Startup

A surprising number of college students don't use the professional-social network. Here's why that's a mistake -- especially for young entrepreneurs.

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By Brendan Brandt

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As if making the transition from student life to the working world wasn't hard enough.

In March, the unemployment rate among 18- to 29-year-olds was 11.7 percent, more than four percentage points higher than the national average of 7.6 percent, according to the millennial-advocacy group Generation Opportunity.

But here's an interesting twist: Nearly half of the college students surveyed in a new report on millennials out today aren't using the professional-networking site, LinkedIn. That survey called "The Student Employment Study," which was produced in by Gen-Y research firm Millennial Branding and AfterCollege, an online career network for college students and recent grads, found that 46 percent of students don't use LinkedIn.

That's hardly a recipe for professional success. While using the professional-networking site is a no-brainer for career seekers, it can also be a valuable resource for intrepid young entrepreneurs. By utilizing three key features, budding entrepreneurs can maximize their potential and even grow their businesses.

Here's a rundown of those features and how young founders can use them most effectively:

1. Build instant credibility.
LinkedIn "Endorsements" provide a forum for the network's users to endorse and commend colleagues, praise counterparts and ask for feedback. While this discussion board promotes referrals and substantiates rapport for the average professional, it can be a massively effective networking tool for young entrepreneurs.

When recommendations are posted, business owners are instantaneously deemed more relevant. That enhanced status can cause entrepreneurs' credibility to skyrocket and possibly help them establish themselves as active leaders within their respective fields.

Related: Forget Facebook's Social Graph: LinkedIn Has a New Search Tool Too

With consistent usage, both actively soliciting recommendations from relevant business partners and returning praise, users can rapidly garner attention from both potential customers and other professionals within the industry. At the same time, by reaching out to those who demonstrate high level knowledge and come highly recommended, young entrepreneurs can learn from that contact's expertise, as well as amass a strong network.

2. Gain intel on competitors and toot your own horn too.
Unlike Facebook's pages or corporate-run Twitter feeds, LinkedIn's "Company Pages" can often illuminate, say, a competitor's moves or industry trends, as well as provide industry specific knowledge. Plus, you can use it to help fulfill your company's goals too. Whether advertising openings, publicizing new leadership accolades or announcing major happenings, LinkedIn's company pages can offer a valuable outlet.

Related: Want to Go Viral? 4 Ways to Get Viewers to Share Your Videos

By regularly checking in on industry partners, entrepreneurs can glean critical insights into what makes their counterparts successful and ultimately parlay that into beneficial strategies within their own organizations. That being said, it is wise to remember that just as you are keeping tabs on your competition's page, they are likely tracking yours too.

3. Generate contacts and sales leads.
The "Who's Viewed Your Profile" feature, located on the lower right hand side of your LinkedIn homepage, keeps track of users whom you may or may not be connected to, that have recently viewed your profile. While non-premium users can only see a few of their profile's recent visitors, this tool allows for what are essentially, warm introductions.

Once an entrepreneur has determined who has been viewing their information, they can classify each user as potential customer, possible recruit, their competition or otherwise. If they are one of the initial two, an introduction comes almost naturally as they are likely intrigued by the entrepreneur's company, background or expertise.

Related: How to Jumpstart Engagement on Twitter (Infographic)

As you explore the power of this feature make sure you frequently update your profile's heading and use relevant keywords within your profile, optimizing it for searches and increasing viewership.

What other aspects of LinkedIn would you recommend young entrepreneurs utilize? Let us know in the comments section.

Brendan Brandt

Brendan Brandt is founder and alumni of Coast & Canter and The Brandt Group. He is a leading social strategist with an emphasis on integrated digital solutions.

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