Professional networking is practically a full-time job in itself. There’s association meetings, and internal meetings, and a million times a day when you are in the position of selling yourself, your company or your product.
There are any number of popular Social Networking sites, of course, but there’s always some risk in mixing business and pleasure. Friend your boss on Facebook and he or she might see those photos your friend took last weekend.
When it comes to professional networking online, the one community that pops up in conversation first is…LinkedIn.
Like every network, LinkedIn gives back what you put into it. And, like so many Social Networking sites, LinkedIn can be a confusing experience – but with a few basic guidelines, it can be a useful professional networking and business development tool. Here are a few things that will go a long way to making your experience more meaningful:
1) Complete your profile and keep it current
Your profile is more than just your resume. Of course you do want to list your work experience and your education, but your profile can be more than that. Did a good job? Get recommendations that highlight your skill sets. Have colleagues, clients and peers tell the world what kind of person you are.
Once you have your profile completed, don’t just walk away. Tweak it from time to time. Give it pizzaz, keep it current. Every time you make a change – add a Twitter feed, rewrite your headline, etc, – your connections will see that there have been changes, which draws their attention back to you.
2) Join Groups and use them
Groups on LinkedIn can represent an interest, a professional credential, your education, your industry or just about any kind of affiliation. Associations, fraternities, and hobbyists all have groups on LinkedIn. There may be a group for business people in your state or in your town. Groups are a great way to meet people with at least one thing in common with you – surely that’s enough to start a conversation, even if it’s not destined to be an eternal friendship.
Don’t join 100 groups that you never read in order to impress someone. Join 10 groups that you read and comment on. Weigh in on a discussion or add a great link to a news item you’d like to share. Don’t just be a one-way communicator – make sure you comment on other people’s posts, as often as you post your own.
Groups give potential employers and clients a glimpse at your professional interests and affiliations, so choose wisely. It may seem funny at the time to join “Bring Back Tar and Feathering As Punishment,” but what is it going to say about you as a professional?
3) Answers are a great way to showcase your skills
One of the most “interesting” features of LinkedIn is the Answers section. Answers are questions asked by other LinkedIn users and open for debate, discussion, sharing and humor.
Answers can be a fabulous resource and a great place to meet new people to connect with. Answers can also be a cesspool of political rants, useless commentary and a sinkhole of time and sanity. Choose your poison wisely.
Avoid agendas, highlight your experience by choosing professional questions asked professionally and then answering them professionally. You’ll shine above the rest with well-thought out answers to interesting questions. From time to time, you’ll be rewarded with LinkedIn’s version of a cookie – a Best Answer. Best Answers are awarded by the people who ask the questions. People who award you a Best Answer are great choices for new connections and possible business relationships.
If you decide to ask a question yourself, you’ll be asked to chose a category that the question best fits into. These categories are inadequate, but don’t stress about it. Pick the best possible one. When you ask your question, thefirst few answers may be sarcastic, “clever” (by which I mean “annoying,”) or otherwise kind of useless. People use the Answers for a lot of different reasonsand in a lot of different ways. Not all of them are helpful to you or even sensible. Don’t let them get you down. Thank the folks who reply helpfully and ignore the rest.
4) Help is your friend
One of the oddest things about LinkedIn is the otherwise highly intelligent and accomplished folks who set up profiles, but really don’t know how to use them. What makes these folks “odd” is that they frequently send messages to the public Answers areas asking how to do simple things, or writing extremely angry posts there, because they think those areas are LinkedIn Help. Do yourself a favor – once your profile is set up, look at your Account & Settings. Make sure your username email is the one you want to use. Turn off email notifications, or you’ll get an email box *full* of group notifications and replies and comments and posts and….
Take a few minutes and visit the Help page before you need it (the link is on the top right hand corner, right next to Account & Settings.) The link to Customer Service can be found as a tab behind *any* question on Help. There’s also a tutorial and the usual tips and tricks that are helpful at the Learning Center.
Above all, when something isn’t working, don’t get angry. LinkedIn has glitches all the time. It’s not you. It’s just a site and if you use it right, you’ll have plenty of emails, Twitter feeds, Facebook friends and Google Waves to keep you busy while it resets.
Erica Friedman is the President of Yurikon LLC, a social media promotion company focusing on small and “micro” niches. She writes about Social Media Without Delusion at SocialOptimized.