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|October 2008, Issue 56|
Fly-by-Night Fad—Or the Best Networking Tool Around?
By Sheila Scarborough, freelance writer and blogger, Every Dot Connects
The Digital Business Card: Using LinkedIn Effectively
Social networking tools abound, but are they really worth it? LinkedIn, for one, is an excellent way to sample online networking without feeling like a business fish out of social media water. The sedate black-and-white layout of a LinkedIn profile (here is mine) looks comfortingly similar to a résumé or company biography. This isn't MySpace or Facebook, and no one will flash nudie photos or SuperPoke you with a sheep. People are on LinkedIn for just one thing: business networking.
Is LinkedIn a fly-by-night social media fad?
Good question. Here are some facts from a June 18, 2008 article in BusinessWeek:
"On track to generate $100 million in sales this year, LinkedIn is experiencing a growth surge. It logged 7.7 million unique viewers in May, a 146% increase from a year ago, according to a June 17 report by market researcher Nielsen Online….LinkedIn expects to have 30 million to 35 million members by the end of 2008. [Note: Facebook is about 80 million members.] The tally of registered users may double, to as high as 70 million by the end of 2009, executives say. And LinkedIn's audience demographics are gold-plated. The average user is 41 and has a household income of $109,000."
You know that networking tip that recommends sending a friendly follow-up e-mail after exchanging business cards with someone? It's great advice—why not add a request to connect on LinkedIn to that ritual?
Here are some other suggestions for the best way to establish your online networking presence:
Your LinkedIn Profile
Under your name is your professional headline for what you’re about—your "elevator speech" when someone asks, "What do you do?" Personalize it, but keep it short and succinct. My favorite belongs to a retired military person: "Entrepreneur. Business Leader. Combat Marine. Author."
Ask questions, and answer questions, across a broad range of topics related to almost any profession. Don't overdo it trying to rack up expertise "brownie points," but periodically look at questions that are asked in subjects about which you are knowledgeable. This builds your credibility as an expert within your profession. If your answer is chosen as a Best Answer by the one who asked the question, that can be shown in your profile (I recommend having your questions and answers visible.) Questions I have answered include, "What's your favorite yearly conference?" (in Professional Networking), "Where do I find the best travel blogs?" (in Blogging), and "What 'added value' service are you looking for in hotel rooms?" (in Business Travel). You can also subscribe to the RSS feed for certain types of questions.
Recommend colleagues, service providers and/or business partners that you know and trust. There is a short preformatted form that you can send to request recommendations for yourself, when appropriate. A little blue REC icon appears next to the names of people in your network that you've recommended. The write-ups only take a minute and have a high "feel-good" factor, especially when you knock one out for a deserving person who hasn’t asked.
I allow mine to be visible (since networking is the whole point) but some others do not. Don't get caught up in a numbers game; networking influence is not measured by having 500+ connections. Always personalize the standard "invitation to connect" wording, especially to clearly identify yourself to someone you've just met. Where can you find people? My connections include editors, fellow writers, a couple of former college professors, people from online bulletin boards, people I met at professional conferences or social gatherings, speakers at monthly club meetings, former Navy shipmates, people who read my blogs and even some next-door neighbors.
I do not let LinkedIn (or any site) troll my e-mail address book; I already am connected with those people and if I want a LinkedIn connection I will send an individual request. Think of it as exchanging virtual business cards. If in doubt about digital etiquette, consider whether you would exchange cards in person. If not, don't do it online, either.
Find groups to join that interest you, like college alumni or corporate groups. Don’t join just for the sake of joining, any more than you would in your offline life.
5. People, Jobs and Companies
These tabs are research gold mines for job listings, finding people who worked at the same company with a prospective employee or employer that you're investigating, and to research companies (they have categories like Most Connected, Fastest Growing and Most Viewed.)
There is no real mystery to online networking; tools like LinkedIn simply remove geographic barriers, awkwardness and a lot of stovepipes from the process.
Now, take those rubber-banded business cards out of that drawer and get busy!
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Sheila Scarborough is a writer specializing in travel, NHRA drag racing and social media/Web 2.0. She likes to use both sides of her brain. Visit her blogs to learn more:
Social media/Web 2.0 on Every Dot Connects: http://everydotconnects.com/
Family Travel Logue: http://www.familytravellogue.com/
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