LinkedIn is the largest professional network on the internet and a powerful tool for building and maintaining relationships.
George C. Fraser, author of Success Runs in Our Race, and Monique Greenwood, author of Having What Matters, have long advised African-Americans to get into the networking game. But how many of us have failed to heed this suggestion?
We know we should network to boost our careers, find customers and make new friends, but we just can’t seem to get motivated. Most people don’t like to network because there is a belief that networking involves attending endless events and/or schmoozing with strangers. The internet has eliminated many of these roadblocks. Now you can connect with people, research companies, and promote yourself all from the comfort of home by using the business social networking site, LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is the largest professional network on the Internet with more than 100 million members. There are professionals representing a variety of industries in all positions from entry level to top executives. According to Jon Vermeiren, author of How to Really use LinkedIn, executives from all Fortune 500 companies are members. Additionally, more than one million companies have LinkedIn company pages.
Creating your LinkedIn Profile
The first step in using LinkedIn is to build a fantastic profile. Consider this a piece of marketing material that will constantly change and evolve. According to Vermeiren, your profile is a work in progress. “You can start with a simple profile and then add more details to it later,” writes Vermeiren. “People’s lives are not static; they are dynamic, so keep updating your profile every time something noteworthy happens.”
Build Your Network
Like offline networking, building your LinkedIn network will take some time and effort. However, there are a few very simple things you can do to get the ball rolling. First, LinkedIn gives you the option to upload all of contacts from various email programs including Outlook, Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo and other programs. You can do this by clicking the “Add Connections” button to the right of your name on the upper right corner of every LinkedIn page.
Another option, if you want to build your network quickly, is to join LinkedIn Groups. In their book - How to Find a Job on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and Other Social Networks - Brad and Debra Schep state that the groups feature is one of LinkedIn’s most powerful tools. Quoting Krista Canfield, LinkedIn’s public relations manager, the authors write, “Joining a group allows you to connect with people without connecting directly to them. You can reach out to anyone in a group whether you know them directly or not.”
If you want to find a former colleague you’ve lost contact with you can use LinkedIn’s Search function, which is also on the top right of every page. You can also research companies and job opportunities in the same manner.
As you are building your network, it’s important to actively show your commitment to nurturing connections. In addition to participating in LinkedIn Groups, social networking experts suggest asking and answering questions. You can ask questions to your immediate network or the millions of LinkedIn users. The “Answer” button is located under the “More” option at the top of the LinkedIn homepage.
Asking questions can help you with research regarding your chosen industry or assist you in completing a specific task while you’re on the job. By answering questions posed by others, you can position yourself as an expert in your field.
Make LinkedIn a Habit
LinkedIn is a tool, and like all tools, it will only help you if you actually use it. It is not enough to simply create a profile on LinkedIn and then not log back onto the site for weeks or months at a time. Experts suggest making visits to LinkedIn part of your internet routine.
“Many people only start building or maintaining their network when they need a job or a customer or something else,” explains Vermeiren. “And most times they need it very bad and very fast. As a consequence, they are under such time pressure that they want to bypass the fundamental principles of networking.”
The desperate approach is rarely successful, so instead of building your network while under duress, do it now so it will be there for you when you need it. And have fun! While LinkedIn is a professional site, there are also groups for various hobbies and other interests such as cooking, bird watching and gardening.