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What is LinkedIn?
With close to 675 million members, LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network on the Internet. Used by more than 30 million businesses from more than 200 countries, it can be a powerful marketing tool and social networking resource once you learn how to use it. It gives you the opportunity to build business relationships all over the world as well as locate and reconnect with former colleagues or college alumni. People like to do business with people they know, and LinkedIn brings that personal connection to your business.
How does LinkedIn work?
The way LinkedIn works is that it gives you a platform for creating a personal network of strategic contacts. Once you do that, you can also build a company page on LinkedIn for your business. You start by creating a profile in which you describe yourself and list your education, skills, and professional experience. Then you start asking people you know who are on the network to connect to you. You can search for individual names or email addresses to invite to connect with you. You can also allow LinkedIn to help you find contacts by clicking on the Find Connections button in the Build Your Network tab.
That will give you an option to import contacts from an email account, or to individually email people you know.
Once someone accepts your invitation to connect, they become a first-degree conection and can they can see all the information in your profile. People who are connected to your first-degree connections but not directly to you will show up in searches you do for contacts as your second-degree contacts. People who are connected to your second-degree contacts, but not you, will be third-degree contacts. The idea is to "meet" new people through the people you already know to expand your existing network - "Six Degrees of Separation (or Kevin Bacon!)" for business. You can then use this trusted network to find new clients, vendors, business partners, or employees, or if you're a job seeker, a new job.
How do I get started?
LinkedIn Help provides an overview of the system's capabilities and what you can and can't do. But the place to focus on as you get started with the network is your personal profile page. Think of it as your online business card - the first impression you will make on potential clients, vendors, or other business contacts. In fact, when someone searches for your name on Google or Bing, your LinkedIn profile may be at the top of the search result or prominently featured on it. So, make sure your profile information and your photo are professional, complete, and up-to-date. Be sure to link your website and your Twitter account to your profile, too. Link back to your LinkedIn profile from your website, your Twitter profile and any other network or listing that lets you.
As you fill out your profile, pay particular attention to the brief "headline" you are asked to complete. The words in the headline are what will show up right below the search box on LinkedIn when someone searches for your name.
Those words will also show up in the LinkedIn search result listing that appears when someone searches Google for your name.
What will LinkedIn do for my business?
You can use your LinkedIn account to get leads, build brand awareness, find vendors, find employees, and educate potential customers about your business. The specifics will vary somewhat according to your present needs and the nature of your business. One key thing you should do, though, is to build a Company Page for your business in addition to your personal profile.
As long as you have a company email address, you can set up a Company Page that customers and other interested people can follow for updates on your business, and review your products and services.
You can also get known and gain contacts by participating in LinkedIn Groups. Groups let you ask questions and share your expertise with other people with similar interests.
What about privacy?
Your profile will be visible to your connections. You control who else can see it. You can choose to make your public profile visible to everyone or no one. You can choose which details to make visible beyond the basics (your name, industry, location, and number of recommendations.) Your e-mail address is not displayed - initial communication is handled through LinkedIn. For added privacy, you can choose to display only your first name and last initial on your public profile, but your connections will see your full name. People who wish to connect with you must have your approval to do so.
What about the cost?
LinkedIn has a basic free service and offers enhanced services for a fee. The basic free service works well for many small businesses, but the fee-based LinkedIn Premium accounts offer more resources for generating leads, recruiting employees, gaining business insights, and contacting people outside your network of connections.
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