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Using LinkedIn for Fun and Profit

A recent Wall Street Journal on Small Business podcast announced that LinkedIn is the favorite social media site of small business owners. So, why aren’t you using it?

Oh, you probably have a LinkedIn account. I do. But until today, I’ve only used it as a glorified contact list, and a way to participate in a couple of groups that use LinkedIn as a means of communication. Small business owners provide my bread and butter, so when I heard this statistic, I immediately reevaluated how I was using LinkedIn, and how I could use it better.

For the uninitiated, LinkedIn is kind of like Facebook for your professional relationships. It can be very much like Facebook, if you want to use it that way, but it can be so much more: For the job seeker, it can be your online resume. For the employer, it can be a way to find qualified candidates. (We have, in fact, used LinkedIn job postings to fill a couple of positions.)

Most of all, though, LinkedIn is a way to keep abreast of trends in your market, among your peers, colleagues, customers, and vendors. If that sounds like it might be valuable, follow these simple steps to get started.

Step 1: Get an Account (or Sign in to your Existing Account)

If you already have a LinkedIn account. Don’t create another one. You’ll end up confusing people who are looking for you. If you can’t remember your password, LinkedIn has ways of recovering/resetting your password.

Step 2: Update Your Photo

Find the most professional-looking photo of yourself that you can, and upload it to LinkedIn. “Professional-looking” doesn’t necessarily mean suit and tie. I’d opt for a clear, well-lit casual photo over a dark, pixelated photo of you in your Sunday best.

To upload a new photo, go to Profile > Edit Profile. Then, click the camera icon. Make sure to set the photo’s visibility to Everyone, so that people who are searching for you know it’s you they’ve found.

Step 3: Update Your Profile

Go to Profile > Edit Profile.

First, click the Edit Contact Info button, and make sure your contact information is up to date. If not, correct it. (I found my phone number and blog address were out of date.)

Scroll down through your profile and check the rest of it for completeness and correctness. Here’s a tip: Under the Education heading, the first institution listed will show up on your profile summary when others view your profile. Re-order these so your most recent, (or most prestigious) appears on top.

When you’re done editing, scroll to the top, and click Done Editing.

Now, click Improve your profile. This will take you through a series of questions designed to increase the value of what you have listed in your profile. You don’t have to answer all (or even most of) the questions, but they are quite helpful in making sure your profile is complete.

Tip: When filling out your profile, remember your audience, which includes all of your professional contacts (and potential contacts). You want information that is relevant to customers, prospects, co-workers, vendors, and potential employers.

Step 4: Connect

Use the search bar (in the upper right) to search for people you know by name. Start with current customers, vendors, and colleagues. When you see the person listed, click the Connect button. Select the option that best describes your relationship, and click Send Information. Don’t worry about filling out the personalized message. No one expects one.

Here’s a tip: Don’t add people you don’t actually know in some capacity. It’s not about the number of connections, but the quality of those connections.

Step 5: Engage

Click on Home. You’ll see a news feed, similar to Facebook’s news feed. Scan through it. Make comments. “Like” things. This will get your name out there and bring you back into people’s minds.

When you’re comfortable, post some updates of your own. Make sure to keep them professional, but they don’t all have to be profound.

Download the LinkedIn app for your smartphone, so you can keep up with your network during your downtime.

Here’s a tip: If you’re selling something, it’s very tempting to pounce on anyone who responds to you by sending them a sales pitch. Resist the urge. They’ll very quickly learn not to respond to your posts. Instead, engage them through the comments, and use that to qualify them. If you can’t get them at least a little engaged on LinkedIn, asking for a meeting probably won’t work. Even if you get it, you’ll likely be wasting your time.

Conclusion

That’s all I have, but that’s certainly not all there is to using LinkedIn. I admit that I have a bit of a Facebook habit. I’m going to try and turn that into a LinkedIn habit, and see where it takes me.

Do you use LinkedIn now? What’s your favorite feature? How do you use it in your business? Leave a comment below.

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