LinkedIn is an online network for professionals. Users create profiles(essentially individual webpages within the site) and connect with other users - invite them to be contacts. A contact who accepts is called a 'connection'. They can communicate through messages, create groups and company profiles, and ask other members of the community questions
Add everyone you've met in person as contacts, but also anyone you see online who's in your industry or could be useful. You can't message someone unless they're your contact, but there's no harm in trying to add them, and if they accept your request it could lead to something in the future.
"It's all about connectedness," says William Buist, managing director of social media consultancy Abelard Management Services and author of At Your Fingertips: A guide to successful online business networking. He has about 30,000 contacts on the site (though don't worry - most people only have between a few dozen and a few hundred!). "My strategy was to make as many contacts as possible, then the people I wanted to talk to would be just one contact away."
You don't need to keep in touch with everyone after adding them - just focus on keeping in touch with contacts who are going to be most useful. Buist says that of his pool of 30,000, he's in regular conversation with a couple of hundred, then about 20 of those are at the point where they strongly recommend him to other businesses. "But I needed the wider network to find those 20."
He advises treating your LinkedIn profile like a cv. "It should be always evolving and constantly updated." This keeps your public face fresh and relevant.
Groups: A good way to engage with the community if there's a relevant one in your sector. If there isn't one, you could create one - but be aware they are professionally orientated here rather than anything social - much more about building contacts and making professional recommendations than sharing news or lighter conversations, as with Facebook groups. There are lots of groups for alumni, and this can be a good way to find contacts you didn't know you had without approaching them completely cold, if you are an alumni.
Questions: You can ask questions to the community - it's a good to engage and open up dialogue, especially with previously old contacts. Also handy for getting answers on any issues you may have and building your on-site reputation, and hopefully gradually positioning you as useful if you can answer others' queries.
Applications: These are a range of handy tools for managing aspects of your business - such as Huddle Workspaces's online file storage and collaborative documents editing and SlideShare Presentations. Might be useful, depending on what you need. You can get most of them elsewhere but it showcases some of what's on offer out there.
Jobs: LinkedIn is increasingly proving itself useful for employers wanting to root out top potential, and for jobseekers whose contacts can recommend them to the positions they deserve. If you have a well-established and trusted network on the site, it can be worth asking them for recommendations. It alaso 'automatically matches' jobseekers to jobs, and you can sometimes find references for them on the site. It also, of course, shows how well connected someone is and how adept at using social media they are.
Companies: You can create a profile for your business as well, as you can on Smarta. On LinkedIn, this basically gives you a chance to describe what you do and list any employees also using the site. But you might be wise to wait until you've got a good few employees on LinkedIn before creating a company profile, to make sure it looks impressive. The function is more useful for checking out other companies - how many staff they have and, interestingly, which other companies they are 'most connected to', which can be used to betray allegiances as well as alternative routes in (if you have good history with one of the other companies). New hires are worth a look too - if you've met them before, it could be a good opportunity to re-open communications by sending them a congratulatory message on the site.
Messages: Work much the same as on other sites, and sent privately - what you say is at your discretion.
Jobs: You can search for jobs on LinkedIn, and post one for $195 a month. LinkedIn is a great place to look for recruits without having to pay to post an ad though, as you can browse your extended network's profiles and search for people in your industry easily. This gives you insight into candidates and opens up doors for people to approach. Also, ask your network for recommendations.
Applications: Applications on LinkedIn have been developed with other businesses and let you use the functionality of what that other business does within LinkedIn - so for example the Amazon application (app for short) lets you see what books your network recommends while you're using LinkedIn if you choose to add the Amazon app to your profile, while the WordPress one lets you add your WordPress blog to your LinkedIn profile. They enrich your LinkedIn experience and bring other online and social media activity together in a really useful way. We'll hand things over to the LinkedIn team and the people they're developed apps with to explain more:
Typically, you have to be a member of LinkedIn to view other members' full profiles. From there on, you may as well show all members your full profile - it's what's on your profile that'll encourage people to interact with you, and you shouldn't put anything on there that you'd want to hide from anyone anyway.
The following Mashable guides are invaluable for more in-depth advice once you've got to grips with the basics of LinkedIn:
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