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Facebook. But for business.
Member Name: nykied
Advantages: You don't get all the 'join my mafia/farm/other random crap' messages that you do with Facebook
Disadvantages: You need to hunt to find some fun stuff amongst all the business stuff
LinkedIn is a site very much like Facebook but made for business. It's a social networking site but the friends (or contacts as they are on LinkedIn) don't tend to be the sort of people you'd tell about your drunken nights out and you certainly wouldn't post any pictures on there of you pushing a cow over at 3am on a Saturday night! If I haven't put you off so far, then read on to find out how to get involved.
To start with, you need to register. This is a very quick process and involves you putting your details in, including an email address. LinkedIn will then send you a confirmation email, you click on the link in there and you're now registered.
Once you are registered, you need to sort out your profile. Not getting a good profile is a mistake that a lot of people make and then they wonder why LinkedIn isn't working out for them. Imagine your LinkedIn profile as your CV. Instead of just listing where you've worked, you need to put some detail about what it is you've done at each company. You also need to put some sort of summary, which will appear just below your name on your profile and could go along the lines of, 'Bob is a prolific writer of reviews on both Ciao and DooYoo and he has earned many awards for his work'. Basically, sell yourself.
Finally, put a professional picture on your profile. A lot of people tend to omit this, or put their company logo on instead. If people want to do business with you online, they want a picture of you on there rather than a company logo. You wouldn't put a company logo on Facebook, would you? So why settle for a logo on LinkedIn?
The next step is finding connections (LinkedIn 'friends'). There are various different ways of doing this. Once you've got the companies that you've worked at on your profile, LinkedIn will automatically suggest people who have also worked there. Alternatively, you can search for people you might know. If you know a lot of people who work at Company XYZ, go to the top and type XYZ in the search box, making sure that you've got the 'People' tab on. Then scroll through, sending connection requests to the people you know. Another way is to join groups that state that they're 'Open Networking' groups. This means that they people in there will connect with ANYONE.
If you're job hunting, it's well worth joining some of the job groups, as well as getting your profile as complete and professional as possible. People do find you on there and one of those people could be your next employer.
Why, I hear you ask, would you want to be connected to a lot of people you don't know? Well, you might not be, but if you're going to be using LinkedIn as a tool for gaining more business, then the more people you're connected to, the more names you can see. If, for example, I was connected with everyone on here, if I did a search, I would be able to see the names of everyone on here and the names of everyone who's connected to the people who are on here. If you then become connected with one of those people, you can see everyone that they're connected with, if you do a search.
One thing about connections, specifically about asking people to connect with you. When you send the invitation, you need to select how you know you know that person, whether you've done business with them, you're in the same group as them or some other way. If you click the 'I don't know them' option, it won't send it. And on LinkedIn, someone that you've sent an invitation to has the option of clicking on the 'Do Not Know' button. Too many of these (I think it's three) and you get kicked off the site. You can then come back on by agreeing to the Terms of Business again, but too many times and you'll get banned permanently.
Once you're got some connections that you trust, it's time to get some recommendations. These appear on your profile for others to see so you do get the opportunity to accept them. If one isn't a recommendation that you wouldn't want others to see, don't accept it. The easiest way to get a recommendation from someone that you know and trust is to recommend them first. You'll find the button that enables you to do that on their profile.
Joining LinkedIn is free and to use most of it continues to be free, but if you're seriously using it for business, then I'd at least consider upgrading your membership. Benefits of upgrading include being able to see the full profiles of people who only want paying members to be able to see their profiles. When you do a search on people, you can only look at the first hundred if you're a free member. How many in the list you can see depends on what level of membership you've gone for. I would recommend using the free membership and seeing how you go first of all before shelling out on membership. It might not bring in any business, after all!
LinkedIn isn't all business, you can find some pockets of fun on there. As an example, I joined a group called Dude. It's mostly Americans but it's full of silly discussions and can brighten up my day, as the people on there are really friendly. Do have a look and join some silly groups, as well as joining some groups relating to what you do for business.
And that's it! You're practically done! There's a lot more to be found on LinkedIn but this gives you the basics. Get your profile 100% complete, get some connections and recommendations and join some groups. You're in!
Summary: Give it a go, especially if you're job hunting