How To Really Use LinkedIn

by Guest Expert

Over 140 million people (and this number is growing) have a profile on LinkedIn and also a few Connections. However, the question that most people ask is: what does this website have that I can use to my advantage? Another question that keeps popping up is: why use LinkedIn when there is Facebook, MySpace and many other social networking websites? And last but not least: how to use LinkedIn in a way that brings immediate results.

The single most important benefit of LinkedIn. For us the most powerful concept behind LinkedIn is that it finds the right people AND the connections you have with them. It makes the networks of the people we know visible. LinkedIn shows us our second and third degree networks and the paths towards them. This has tremendous value. 

Why? Many people already have difficulty keeping track of their own (first degree) network. It is impossible to know whom our network knows. LinkedIn makes this visible. This is extremely powerful especially if you start with the end or goal in mind. Many people make the "mistake'to only look in their own network when they are looking for someone to help them, to find a new job or new customers. In this way they are limiting themselves tremendously.

But what if we start with defining the best person, discover who they are and then find out via whom we can get introduced to them?

For example let's suppose you are looking for a job at Coca Cola in the Los Angeles area (or you want to do business with them as a supplier or partner).

What most people then do is think of who they might know at Coca Cola. Then they can't think of anyone and give up. Or they call the front desk, ask for the HR Manager and are stalled by the receptionist. Or the HR Manager says she is going to call back, but never does. Frustration!

Let's now start with the goal in mind. You define the HR Manager as the person who can help you best reaching your goal (a job, a contract or expertise). Then you use LinkedIn and do a search with "HR Manager, Coca Cola, Los Angeles". The result is that you don't only find the exact name of the person, but also the connections you share with this person.

When you then look at the mutual connections you have, you might discover that this person is connected with your neighbor. You didn't know this because Coca Cola never has come up in your conversations. He has never mentioned anything about it and you never told him that you were interested in working for or with Coca Cola. After talking to your neighbor about it, you find out that he has worked together with the HR Manager in the past. When he hears about your goal he agrees on writing an email to introduce you to the HR Manager. Five days later you are invited to have a talk with the HR Manager and land the job or contract.

Without LinkedIn you might never have known that they knew each other!

Why LinkedIn and not Facebook or MySpace? Let us clarify first: it is not LinkedIn OR Facebook, you can use them both. But why also give attention to LinkedIn? Since it is a BUSINESS networking website. This means that people who are a member are more open to do business than on other websites which are more focused on sharing personal experiences.

Everybody who is in business knows that it is easier to get more business through referrals than to make cold calls. People who are referred to you by someone else are already "presold'by your mutual contact because of the trust that already exists between them.

What is taught in many sales and network marketing courses is that you have to ask your current customers and your network for referrals. However many times people only get a few referrals. The reason is that your network only thinks of a very small part of their network at the moment you ask them.

LinkedIn can help you overcome that hurdle and much better than Facebook. How? By looking in the network of your network you find out who they know. Then you can bring this up in conversation and ask your contact if (s)he is willing to make an introduction. Help your network to help you by providing them with names of people who might be interesting for you!

Why is LinkedIn a better tool for this than Facebook? In Facebook the search function is not geared to do advanced searches (you can't search on a profile or with detailed parameters, only names and company names) and it is much more difficult to find out the BUSINESS profile of the people who are in the network of your network (they have to give you permission to see their profile). Facebook is a great tool to build and maintain personal relationships, but LinkedIn boosts your professional relationships AND your business.

How to Craft an Attractive Profile

Although many people have the wrong perception that if they make a good Profile people will find them and call them (which only a very small percentage will actually do), it is important to have an attractive Profile. Not necessarily to be found by other people, but to give a good first impression when someone visits your Profile AFTER you have proactively searched for a connection with the right people (see the example of the HR manager of Coca Cola).

These are a few tips to create an attractive Profile:

  1. Name: if you want to be found by other people who know you, use the name you use in a professional environment. So no nick names. For women: also include your maiden name.
  2. Professional Headline: this is your "magnet". This should entice people to read the rest of your Profile after they have found you via a search or when you have contributed in a Group or in Answers. Pay enough attention to your professional headline and use words that will attract the right people (not everybody!).
  3. Your Profile Photo: use a professional picture. Especially students tend to put holiday pictures on their LinkedIn Profile like they would do on Facebook. Since LinkedIn is a professional website it is better to have a "normal'picture. And please, gently smile to the visitors of your Profile, you're not in prison.
  4. Your Public Profile URL: personalize your LinkedIn Profile page by using your name in the URL. This will boost your online presence on the web: when someone searches on your name in Google, Yahoo, Bing or another search engine your LinkedIn page will be in the top rankings.
  5. Summary: share something about your company, about your professional expertise and about yourself. Use words everybody can understand, so avoid jargon. Focus on your present job (or what you want to do in the future if you are looking for a new job).
  6. Specialties: this is the place to share the skills and knowledge you have accumulated in all the jobs you have done. For example: if you have a certification like Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, this is the place to mention it. Also use the abbreviation if it is used a lot. In this example that would be MCSE.
  7. Experience: here you can list all the organizations you have worked for. Always be sure to add a title and the right time period. This will help other people to find you and it will help you to find old colleagues back. It is advised to also add some more details about the job content.
  8. Education: list the schools you went to in order to find old classmates and people who went to the same school.
  9. Interests: list some of your personal interests here. Next to the professional information that is already abundantly present in your Profile personal interests and hobbies help other people to get a better image of you as a whole person. Many times common interests are found in this small box, which make online and offline conversations much easier.
  10. Use Applications: make your Profile more attractive and more interesting by adding (free) Applications like SlideShare, files and Google Presentation.

How to use LinkedIn to find the people you need (for example new customers)

Though LinkedIn is by many people seen as a tool that people can use to find a new job, it is also a great tool to find new customers, suppliers, partnerships, experts and other people to get your job done faster. 

Let's focus on how LinkedIn can help you find new customers. These tips are also applicable to finding new suppliers, partners, experts (not only outside, but also inside your own organization!) and even a new job.

LinkedIn offers several ways to find new customers. But before being able to use LinkedIn successfully it is important to make a good definition of your target group(s). Once you have done that, these are some of the strategies to follow:

  1. Search for potential customers. Use the "advanced search'option to search with the parameters of your definition and get a list of people back. Then see via whom you are connected to them and ask for an introduction. Please remember that what you are now doing is building a relationship, selling is a next stage!
  2. Browse in the network of your network. Go to the Profile of someone from your first degree network and look at the right hand side who they are connected to. Then ask for a connection with this person.
  3. Become member of the Groups that your customers and prospects are also member of. Remember again that it is about sharing and helping first. By doing that you raise your visibility and people will start to contact you.
  4. Create "alerts". LinkedIn gives you the option to save your searches. So save your search from step 1 and LinkedIn sends you every week an email with new prospects.
  5. Look at the Network Updates. On your LinkedIn Home Page you can find out who your contacts link to. If you find out that this person is also interesting for you, ask for an introduction.

LinkedIn is a very powerful tool to help you grow professionally and reach your goals fast. Not only to find new customers, but also for partners, suppliers, coaches, mentors, experts and any other person who can help you grow your business and advance your career. 

In short LinkedIn is one of the best tools to really have the experience of giving and receiving help. So start using it!

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