You’re LinkedIn, Now What?

You’ve created a profile on the top business networking site. What’s next? Here are six ways to make LinkedIn work for you.

If you’ve read articles or taken part in conversations about online business networking, then you’ve undoubtedly heard of LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com). If not, here are the basics: LinkedIn is a business-minded social networking Web site designed to connect professionals in a broad range of industries. Users create profiles (like virtual resumés), search for like-minded users, receive recommendations and connect with friends and associates.

LinkedIn Gases and Welding-Related Groups As of August 2009, there were 62 LinkedIn groups associated with the welding and gases industry. Among them:
  • Gases and Welding Distributors Association (76 members)
  • Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International (610 members)
  • Weld Engineering Network (418 members)
  • Materials-Welding (353 members)
  • Robotic Welding (241 members)
  • Welding Managers (49 members)
  • Industrial Gas Professionals (350 members)

While the plentiful buzz surrounding LinkedIn has inspired more than 40 million businesspeople to create accounts, it’s safe to assume that not every one of those 40 million users knows how to take full advantage of the site’s features. Yes, LinkedIn can help expand your network exponentially, thereby driving sales, but simply creating a username and password won’t deliver big, if any, results.

LinkedIn is not a magic wand that can automatically double your sales revenue overnight. But with the proper knowledge and the right strategy, the site can be a hugely powerful (and free) networking tool. If you’ve created a LinkedIn account and found yourself thinking, “Now what?” then read on. Following are six things to do on LinkedIn that will have you, too, singing the praises of this networking powerhouse.

Make Connections
The ability to connect with others in a specific industry is the heart of LinkedIn’s value, which is exactly why the site makes it so easy for members to find business contacts and start networking. With a tool called “Build Your Network” you can import your hard-earned address book from Web e-mail providers like Gmail, AOL, Yahoo! and many others—and quickly. This eliminates any manual searching that could take hours, allowing you to build a substantial network in just minutes. Once this base group of connections is established, you’ll be able to branch out and connect with friends, former colleagues, employers, current customers and prospective clients. Building this initial set of connections through the “Build Your Network” tool is a crucial first step.

Join Groups
Fast-track your networking by joining groups, one of LinkedIn’s most popular features. Groups exist for almost every industry, trade and common interest, and by joining one, you’re instantly granted access to a network of people with whom you already share something in common. Joining groups is also a great way to get active within online communities related to your industry. Discussions within groups—in which every group member can view and participate—give you the opportunity to talk about industry-specific issues, lend your expertise and demonstrate your willingness to help fellow members. Groups connect you to LinkedIn members you might not be able to reach otherwise. And if you haven’t figured it out already, LinkedIn is all about who you know.

Drive Traffic to Your Company Site
This one’s easy, and it’s an extremely efficient way to increase your company’s visibility on the Web. On your profile, you’ll notice a “Public Profile” URL. This will read: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/ plus a long series of numbers. This URL links directly to your profile within LinkedIn, and anyone can view it—members and non-members alike. Below this, you’ll see a blue box that reads “Customize your URL.” Click it, and you’ll be directed to a page that allows you to edit “Your Public Profile URL” and replace that long string of numbers with your full name—such as http://www.linkedin.com/in/johnsmith. This step takes only a few seconds, but it is incredibly important in boosting your search ranking. Now, when someone types your name into Google, your LinkedIn profile, which should direct viewers to your company Web site, will likely appear in the top three search results.

Customizing your URL makes your LinkedIn profile easier to access. When included in your e-mail signature or business card, a URL with your name in it will be more enticing to curious customers than an ambiguous link with a bunch of random numbers.

Warm Up Cold Calls
One of LinkedIn’s most overlooked, yet extremely valuable, features is the “Who’s viewed my profile?” function. This feature allows you to see who has viewed your profile and searched your information. For prospecting, such data are like gold. Using the data, you’re able to hone in on target companies or accounts and pass these leads on to your sales team, who can now make cold calls with confidence because they know that the potential customers have already shown some interest. This feature may even open up a new market; perhaps someone in an industry your company hasn’t targeted in the past has been checking out your company profile. You can then do some detective work with Google to learn more about this industry or company and decide whether or not it presents a sales opportunity for your business. If so, LinkedIn provides the perfect conversation starter on what would otherwise be a cold call.

Answer Questions
At the upper left-hand side of your LinkedIn homepage, you’ll see the “Answers” tab. This feature allows you to share your knowledge by answering user-generated queries posed by your network. Questions are grouped into categories based on the area of expertise required to provide an answer. Categories include marketing, technology, sustainability, finance—the list goes on.

By searching for questions that pertain to your specialty, and then providing the asker with a well-written, accurate answer, you won’t only help a business contact (who will likely return the favor), but you’ll also display your competence and credibility to your connections, who will receive updates on your most recent “Answers” when they log in. It may go without saying, but take time to compose your answer, re-read your entire post before submitting and proofread for typos or spelling errors. Remember, your answer is visible to your entire LinkedIn network, so make sure it’s something you’re proud to have prospective customers read.

Keep Contacts in the Know
Click “Edit My Profile” and you’ll notice a blue hyperlink under your name that asks, “What are you working on?” If you haven’t already answered that question, then it’s time to fill in the blank. The message that you enter here will appear in your contacts’ “Network Updates,” the first page that appears when a user logs in. The “What are you working on?” box is a great way to keep your contacts updated on what you and your company have in the works and begin to build a buzz. Revamping your Web site? Let your LinkedIn network know by including it in your status, like so: “John Smith is preparing to unveil ABC Company’s improved Web site,” then include the URL to your site. Like other profile updates, this information will immediately be viewable to all your contacts, making your company Web site accessible to viewers in a single click of the mouse. Who could ask for a better marketing opportunity, for free?

A Place to Start
Keep in mind: These are tips for the LinkedIn novice and provide only a solid starting point. As you become more familiar and comfortable with the site, you’ll find a million-and-one more ways to use the site to your company’s advantage, and your network will continue to grow. Remember to stay active on the site and not let it fall by the wayside, because as a gases and welding professional, you know that LinkedIn’s philosophy couldn’t be more true: “Relationships matter.”

Gases and Welding Distributors Association