Note: This article about LinkedIn is the first of several we will cover regarding social media strategies. Stay tuned for more about Twitter, Facebook, blogs and others.
Chances are someone has already invited you to join them on "LinkedIn.com." Your list of suitors may include friends, colleagues, salespeople and maybe even some people you barely know.
What should you do? After all, I am sure you already have plenty to do - do you really need to add something else to your already overcrowded plate?
(You should know that just this week someone from my LinkedIn network contacted me with a great opportunity for my company. Importantly, without LinkedIn, chances are we would have never found each other.)
Generally yes, you should go ahead and join LinkedIn. However, to make it productive you'll need to consider the following:
1. Why are you doing this? The first step is to define your objectives. Do you want to get or share ideas with colleagues? Do you want to position yourself as a thought leader in a given niche? Are you looking for new social opportunities? Are you looking to hire talent? Do you want a job? Are you looking to find new opportunities through networking? Are you trying to increase sales? Or are you simply looking for an easy, non-obtrusive way to stay in touch with people you know?
2. Profile. Don't do what most people do, i.e., simply sign up for your free account and then forget it. Plan on investing an hour to get to know the LinkedIn landscape and fill out your profile. You don't need to list everything you've ever done when you are getting started, but the more robust and relevant you look to your desired target audience and objectives, the better.
3. Strictly business. Remember that LinkedIn is very business oriented. Most Internet-savvy people put their social lives on Facebook, their business lives on LinkedIn. While there are exceptions, getting too casual on LinkedIn is like showing up in shorts at a formal dinner party.
4. Reach nearly anyone. LinkedIn has a partially deserved reputation for being a virtual watering hole for salespeople, recruiters and people looking for jobs. However, you will be making a big mistake if you assume that everyone on LinkedIn falls into those categories.
You can use LinkedIn to connect with many hard-to-reach VIPs including the press, government officials and executives at leading companies.
For example, Reid Hoffman is not only LinkedIn's Founder and CEO, he is also one of the Internet's leading financiers and entrepreneurs. In March, 2009, Hoffman stated on the Charlie Rose Show that he won't "take a meeting with a prospective entrepreneur if they don't come referred. It's actually one of the ways I use my own personal LinkedIn profile."
I felt pretty excluded from Hoffman's big league network until I checked my LinkedIn account, and realized that I too could use LinkedIn to easily connect with him if I ever need to. That was a pretty powerful feeling, and it was also the first time I really had a grasp of how powerful LinkedIn can be.
5. Premium Accounts. Most of what LinkedIn offers is free, but they do offer several premium accounts that will increase its utility. Once you know your way around LinkedIn you can explore these options if appropriate.
6. Groups. In my opinion, LinkedIn's most important feature is "groups." LinkedIn offers thousands of groups that you can join, based upon your interests and background. Some are open - anyone can join - and others require approval from the group's creator.
For example, some of the groups I have personally joined include the American Medical Association, Association of Medical Media, the Buckeye Alumni Network, and about two-dozen others.
You'll get updates weekly (or daily if you prefer), and naturally, some groups are better than others. The good news is that you can easily cull out the ones that waste your time.
7. Be a good citizen. Don't just passively watch the world go by. Participate in the groups you join. Contribute useful comments, forward links, share content or ideas, answer or ask questions. Over time, people will begin to notice you and reach out to you with things that will directly benefit you. Beware, however, that overt self-promotion is a faux pas.
8. Whom to link with. While LinkedIn advises its users to link solely with people they know, the dividing line can become fuzzy. I generally link with people I know, have met and want to keep a dialogue with, or people with whom a business relationship is at least possible. You really need to use discretion, because if too many people say they don't know you, LinkedIn will suspend your account.
9. Get lots of free advice by connecting with our groups. Lonnie and I are pleased to announce a new group on LinkedIn designed for you, our readers. Go to
Some of our readers may also find these new groups helpful:
I could go on and on with more instructions about LinkedIn, but at this stage, your best path to learning is experiential. You'll have to get online and sign up to really understand it. So go get an account, fill out your profile, and make sure you do a search for groups that might be relevant to your interests.