Many of us browse LinkedIn with the same mindlessness used to flip through Facebook profiles. Maybe you’re ogling a friend’s glamorous career, stalking that cute boy you used to work with, or simply wasting time during the workday.
Either way, one thing is certain — you’re probably not taking full advantage of LinkedIn. That’s why freelance writer and author Susan Johnston refers to the site as the “neglected child of social media.”
Yet with her new ebook, LinkedIn and Lovin’ It: Unleash Your Business Potential with LinkedIn, there’s no excuse to ignore the tool’s potential.
If LinkedIn lacks tender love and care, that’s a perception that will soon change. For some websites, referral traffic from LinkedIn dwarfs that from Twitter, TechCrunch reports. And hundreds of freelancers worldwide, some of whom Johnston interviewed for her book, vouch for LinkedIn’s ability to drive traffic, clients and business.
Here’s a sneak peek at Johnston’s hints for using LinkedIn to make new connections, showcase your skills, and find an “in” with companies you admire – rather than as a two-dimensional resume.
Have fun — without security concerns and distractions
The fact that LinkedIn is geared more toward professional networking may be “a benefit, not a bug,” Johnston says. “You don’t have to worry about creating circles or limited profiles because you should assume that everything you post on LinkedIn might be viewed by a boss or prospective client. That awareness lets you focus on building your professional network but that doesn’t mean you have to be all business all the time.”
But don’t be fooled: Just because the site isn’t all fun and games doesn’t mean you can’t give your profile a bit of pizzazz. “There’s room for personality but there are fewer distractions, silly polls, and so on,” says Johnston.
So what’s one creative way to stand out and give your profile character? Johnston encourages adding apps to display your portfolio, link to blog posts, create events, identify travel plans or present slideshows.
Avoid awkwardness with flattery
LinkedIn’s main purpose is linking people, yet sometimes it’s difficult to do that when you don’t actually know the person you want to connect with. Johnston recommends approaching someone you only sorta, kinda know by requesting an introduction from a mutual connection or using InMail. But how can you do so without seeming creepy?
“I’d recommend customizing your invitation to connect instead of using the default,” says Johnston. “For instance, ‘I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself at the Designer’s Conference last month, but I really admire your packaging designs (especially the ones for Old Spice) and I’d love to connect if you’re game.’ Flattery can’t hurt, right?”
Need proof that LinkedIn messages are more credible than cold e-mails?
One of Johnston’s favorite stories is about an author who set up an interview with Zappos’ director of customer loyalty. “She didn’t have an email address but she’d worked with someone from Zappos before, so she sent a customized LinkedIn invitation and that person referred her to his colleague,” says Johnston. “She’s now connected to both people and told me she doesn’t think she would have landed that interview without LinkedIn.”
Explore uncharted territory
Like other social networking sites, LinkedIn is constantly evolving and adding new features. Even once you think you’ve mastered the network, there are probably tools or simply ways to use them that you’re overlooking. Even Johnston was surprised to learn of several throughout her research. Which topped her list? SpeechIn, which allows you to listen to LinkedIn headlines on the go, whether you’re on your computer or smartphone. And InMaps, which offers a color-coded visualization of your network.
Remember: Just because LinkedIn can be more straightforward than Facebook and Twitter doesn’t mean it’s no fun. Earning new clients, securing a job or simply researching your options all sound like great fun to me!