LinkedIn doesn’t need much of an introduction. After all, it’s the third-most popular social networking site, with an estimated 255 million monthly visitors. Heck, you may even be one of them.
But maybe it’s time to consider a re-introduction to LinkedIn. Too many LinkedIn users still just use the site as a simple extension of their resumes. They list their work and their experience and post their photo and then, when they’re not actively looking for a new job, they leave it alone.
That actually leaves a lot of value on the table.
The truth about LinkedIn is that the site has a great deal of value even when you’re not in job-search mode. By spending just a few minutes on the site every once in a while you can also use LinkedIn to increase your knowledge of your industry, show yourself as a thought leader, find experts to help you solve problems at work, and even expand your horizons.
Step 1: Groups
Perhaps the easiest way to start getting more out of LinkedIn is to join any of the thousands of groups that have been set up for fields, interests, employers, geographic areas, schools or other organizations. Members of these groups can participate in targeted discussions, ask for help with their work, share news and otherwise communicate with people who share similar interests.
One of the most important aspects of groups ties into LinkedIn’s value as a networking site. “Groups provide opportunities to get to know people,” said Susan Tabor-Kleiman, founder of Your Professional Writer™ and a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, who recently hosted an IEEE-USA webinar about LinkedIn. “They also provide opportunities for learning because people post articles about their industry.” She suggests this is a great way to show your own thought leadership. “You can post your own articles and get known based on the quality of the articles you share.”
Groups also offer a way to tap into the expertise of a wide range of people. “Groups are places you can go to get answers to questions you have,” says Ed Han, a recruiter for Mercury Systems and a contributor to job-hunt.org and other career sites. “You can’t just ask anyone on the street an engineering question, but you can go to the IEEE LinkedIn group for example and find peers that have the technical background you need. You know these people have the same kind of education, background and aptitude that you do.”
Choosing which groups to join can be tough, especially since each LinkedIn user is limited to just 50 groups. “Search for groups by keyword and then join the groups that are large and active,” suggests Cheryl Palmer, a career coach and the owner of Call to Career.
After you find a few groups specific to your industry, Tabor-Kleiman suggests going broader to find a few additional groups. “I always recommend that people join their alumni groups,” she says. Even if you graduated 30 years ago, you might find old friends who went to school when you did or meet new people who have just graduated who may find value from your experience. “That’s another thing that people forget about LinkedIn,” she says. “It’s not just about the benefit to me, it’s also about what benefit I can provide to other people.”
Personally, I also belong to groups for volunteer organizations (such as Lions Clubs) and a few of my outside interests. These are not only fun, they connect me to people and viewpoints all over the world. You may also find groups for your place of worship, your kids’ schools, or a conference you’re planning on attending.
There’s one additional great thing about groups: Once you join a group, you can communicate with any other group member whether or not you are connected. This is a great way to build your network or just to reach out to people that you want to or need to meet for your job.
Step 2: Finding Answers
What if you have questions that a group can’t solve? That’s a good time to turn to LinkedIn’s search features. Say you have a problem with a specific technology and want to find a consultant who has the right skills. You can search LinkedIn for users who mention that technology in their profile and then find a way to reach out of them.
This is where having a premium LinkedIn account instead of just the free version can be to your advantage. Upgrading your account unlocks LinkedIn’s powerful advanced search features, which provide all kinds of new ways to find what and whom you need. For example, you may search for people with given set of skills in a specific geographic area who worked for a specific company and who also know people that you know who can vouch for them. A premium account also lets you contact people you don’t already know directly through LinkedIn instead of trying to find their email address or phone number someplace else.
“Just spend a few minutes with the advanced search and you’ll see how easy it is to find people,” says Tabor-Kleiman.
Step 3: Following
Another way to get more value from LinkedIn is to visit the pages set up by your favorite companies or organizations. Once you find companies of interest, click the “follow” button. After that, you’ll start getting notifications in your LinkedIn news-feed whenever these companies post updates, articles, blogs, news items, job announcements or other information.
The value you’ll receive here depends on how well the companies or organizations use their LinkedIn pages, but Han says following the best companies is a great way to gather competitive intelligence about your field. You’ll know what they’re working on, what events they’re attending, what types of people they’re hiring and what direction they’re heading—as well as if those are the right decisions for you.
Step 4: Publishing
One of the newest ways to take advantage of LinkedIn is to go beyond posting short updates and links and to start using it as a publishing platform.
To do this, just go to the main LinkedIn page, where you’ll see three buttons. One will allow you to upload a photo. Another allows you to share a brief update. The final button is the best: it reads “Publish a post.”
Just like any other blogging platform, LinkedIn’s Post feature allows you to write something several paragraphs long. You can include a headline and tags to make it more searchable while formatting your text with bold, italics or outside links. You can even add images to the body of the post.
This is another great way to showcase your professional thought leadership. Whatever you write becomes part of your professional profile. Not only that, it shows up in your contacts’ news feeds, either when they visit LinkedIn or when they get one of the site’s periodic emails. The posts are indexed by Google and related sites so people searching for a topic may find themselves reading your post while looking at your professional profile.
What’s more, your posts could get picked up for LinkedIn’s Pulse news site, carrying your message even further. All of this helps to showcase your talents and point of view while positioning yourself as an expert in your field.
Step 5: Just Use It
As with anything, the key to getting more from LinkedIn is just to use it more often. If you just upload your resume and never think about it, it probably won’t do much for you. But if you get moderately active on LinkedIn, you can find value and utility that could even give your career an extra boost. Let’s see Facebook try that.
John R. Platt is a freelance writer and entrepreneur, as well as a frequent contributor to IEEE-USA InSight, Scientific American, TakePart and other publications.