1. Make sure your profile is complete. This sounds like a no-brainer, but many people start entering their information and never finish. When someone wants to know something about you--say, a new business associate or a potential employer--you want to make sure that your profile includes a clear and complete listing of your skills, experience, certifications, and so on.
2. Be in the in-crowd. The Groups you join on LinkedIn show up in your profile. Do some research to see which are the most active and the most relevant to your areas of expertise, as well as which Groups include people whom you respect and would like to be associated with. Most Groups will have to approve your membership--another good reason for having a completed profile that accurately presents your experience. Your Groups are also listed in your profile, so you will want to make sure that they reflect your professional interests and goals.
3. Demonstrate your expertise. It's one thing to reel off your accomplishments resume-style, but it's another thing entirely to demonstrate that you know your stuff. In the Answers section of LinkedIn, you can search on questions asked in your areas of expertise. We all know how hungry IT professionals are for peer insight. Answering questions in a professional, unbiased way--informed by your real-world IT experience over time--brands you as an expert. (And, on LinkedIn, that's both figuratively and literally, as "This Week's Top Experts" are promoted on the site.)
4. Be selective about your posts. This goes for pretty much any social network, but especially for LinkedIn: Don't spam your contacts with updates. You should update your status with informative posts that provide value to those reading them. For example, you could post progress on a current project or (humbly) announce a success.
5. Get referred. A very powerful feature on LinkedIn is References. Ask colleagues and managers, past and present, to write you a LinkedIn reference. Depending on your relationship with the people you are asking, you can request that they focus on a particular area or accomplishment. This is often helpful for the person providing the reference, and it gives you additional control over your (pardon the expression) "holistic" profile.
6. Be a referral. Don't forget to return the favor. Not every reference can and should be reciprocated, but referrals are another form of networking and another reflection on you.
7. Get connected. Again, this one sounds like another no-brainer, but effective use of LinkedIn depends on active cultivation of your contacts. Periodically check the "People You May Know" list, and request a connection with people you have done business with or want to do business with. The more connections you make, the bigger that list grows. LinkedIn makes it pretty easy to send a templated request note, but it's always best to include a personal note.
8. Use those connections. As your network grows, so should your efforts in cultivating it. When you get a notification that someone has changed his title, check it out and send a note of congratulations if the change shows a promotion. Notice that someone has added new experience similar to yours? Send a quick message and offer to compare notes. These are the kinds of efforts that build your brand and can open doors.
9. Get a great new job. Any network cultivation that you do on LinkedIn could lead to your next job, but LinkedIn also provides job listings, and your connections to those jobs will be listed when you open the listing. It's all about networking, and LinkedIn makes it easy to connect with people who may give you an in.
10. Be smart. Make sure that any information you provide about projects you are working on (or your company in general) is in line with stated social networking policy. And, even if it's not in writing, use common sense and don't provide information that could be considered confidential or sensitive. When in doubt, leave it out.
What are your LinkedIn recommendations? Let us know in the comments section below.
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