Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Simple Steps to Social -

Step 1: LinkedIn – The Social Network for Professionals
Article #1 in the series “Simple Steps to the Social Web”

LinkedIn is the leading network for business professionals. It has over 30 million members. Membership is free, but the benefits could be worth millions. That’s because there’s a good chance your next job will come through a LinkedIn connection.

 All you need to get started is your resume, a digital photo of yourself and about an hour. Start by creating an account and then look over a few existing profiles to get familiar with the terrain. Now start filling in your profile by cutting and pasting information from your resume. There will be some new categories for which you will need to write text. You should also upload a photo for your profile^. I suggest you find a friend or colleague who’s a member and ask for their feedback once you’ve completed your first draft of your profile.

The good news about the web is that you can update your profile at any time. In fact, there are actual benefits to updating your profile often. It is noted as recently active by the LinkedIn system and will be more highly promoted to your network.

Now that you have a LinkedIn profile, you’re ready to begin the process of building your network. Click on the green “Add Connections” button about half way down the page on the left. You will see that you can add connections in four different ways: email invitation, importing from an email account, finding professional colleagues or classmates. You can do this a little at a time, so as to not be overwhelmed. Over time, your network will begin to grow almost naturally.

Recommendations: To truly have an effective LinkedIn profile, you need recommendations. In fact, some job postings now even request applicants with LinkedIn recommendations. Begin asking people you’ve worked with to write a recommendation for you. Simply click on “Recommendations” under “Profile” in the left side navigation. Now click on the “Request Recommendations” tab and follow the simple process on the page.

When you send a request for a recommendation, be sure write a few thoughtful sentences explaining some specifics about what you would like them to write about. I’ve included an example below. When you request a recommendation from someone, be sure to reciprocate by offering to write a recommendation for them.

“I would greatly appreciate it if you would write a recommendation for me. I am trying to build credibility in my professional profile; and I felt we worked together very well. It would be ideal if you could highlight a few specific things, such as my initiative, work ethic, attitude, and my communication skills that helped us succeed on various projects.”

 Groups on LinkedIn are a great way to connect with people in your business discipline, industry and community. For example, I am a member of groups related to marketing, technology, sales and Austin. You can elect to receive email updates from these groups. My preferences are set up to receive one weekly update from each group. These updates include information members post about industry news, new business opportunities, recruiting, and questions for discussion.

LinkedIn groups can also be used to seek out new connections, such as recruiters. You can join a group relevant to your expertise and then view the group’s members to see if you know anyone or would like to get connected with a new contact. You can also create a group for your business. Invite your company’s employees, suppliers and customers to join the group. Within the group, members can discuss topics, ask questions and share insights. Each member can leverage the collective knowledge and connections of the entire group.

Messaging: The messaging functionality of LinkedIn is contained in a section entitled “Inbox.” It is very simple to use. You can send “InMails” to your connections and make introductions. One of the most useful features of the LinkedIn messaging system is the Q&A. You can ask a question to all or part of your network. An example would be if you’re looking for people to recommend a specific kind of a supplier, such as an ad agency. Of course, you can also answer questions posed by a connection.

Conclusion: LinkedIn is a great first step to the social web for today’s business professional. It features an intuitive interface, benign interaction and content that is familiar - as it is basically an expanded online resume. Yet, unlike job sites like Monster or CareerBuilder, LinkedIn enables you to build a network of human connections.

The real power of LinkedIn kicks in after you’ve built your profile and network base. Then you can leverage the collective knowledge, resources and connections of your network and groups. This lets you see in real time what is hot in the market and what is working for others. I use this knowledge to share insights with my closest connections, such as business peers, prospects and clients. The resulting effect is that I am a key member of a network that is always becoming collectively smarter and better connected.

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