Linked-In for business and pleasure

The Linked-In crowd will try to convince you that their service is good for business. This is more true than you might believe - and I'll try to demonstrate some of that truth in this article. The part that interests me, though, is that I really enjoy it.

It happens from time to time that somebody will ask me about setting up a new business, offering web or other consulting services or finding a new job. People also ask me about venture capital - which I really don't understand because (a) I don't have any and (b) I'm convinced that the people I know who do have it are really, really busy with their existing projects. But I do have a generic answer to many of these questions: Linked-In.

As with all the social network services, I was skeptical at first. It took a long time before I finally tried Linked-In and, unfortunately, when you first create your account it truly looks and feels like a waste of time - but it's not.

The Linked-In crowd will try to convince you that their service is good for business. This is more true than you might believe - and I'll try to demonstrate some of that truth in this article. The part that interests me, though, is that I really enjoy it.

By the way: I have no financial or other interest in Linked-In. I am writing this because I believe the service is worth far more than what little I pay for it (and it's mostly free of charge.)

Getting Started

It only takes about five minutes to create your Linked-In account. Visit the web site and follow the instructions:

http://www.linkedin.com/

At some point in the future you will have posted enough information that your profile will look very much like a short work history - a résumé - with built-in references. This will happen over a period of time - say a few weeks to a few months - It's up to you.

I suggest you start by entering the most basic information. You can try right away to enter every bit of information you can think of but there's no real point - it will take time for people to visit your profile. The best approach is probably to update your profile a bit at a time, from time to time, whenever it's convenient.

Having Fun

Once you've created your profile you will want to start doing something with it. Here are a few things to do:

  • Find and connect with:
    • your family and friends
    • people you work with
    • people you have worked with in the past
  • Browse and Search:
    • The profiles of people in your network,
    • Groups,
    • and Questions and Answers.
  • Write Recommendations for the people you know and
  • Request Recommendations from them.

I can't tell you how much fun I've had in the past just looking-up colleagues and acquaintances. I've found high-school classmates on Linked-In and people I've worked with as far back as 15 years ago. I've also met some new people - people with common interests that are both hobby and business related. I've enjoyed exchanging emails with them and I've also enjoyed chatting with them on the phone.

I can't claim to have spent much physical time with many of the contacts on my Linked-In network. Then again that doesn't seem to be an issue. There are a few contacts that I've added to my network that I've never physically met before; not many. These tend to be people with whom I share some common interest who have either asked me to network with them or vice-versa. I do expect to meet some of them some day at trade shows and other gatherings. For the most part, though, most of my contacts joined my Linked-In network after I met them, physically or over the net, in some other context. Linked-in mostly serves to help me remember them and occasionally make some small contact with them.

(Note that there's lots of interesting stuff you can do with Linked-In. I'm only covering a few items of interest to me - you should browse the site and tinker with it to find out more.)

Groups, etc.

Linked-In has thousands of Discussion Groups in which you can participate. These are groups of people who get together because they share some kind of common interest:

  • alumni groups representing high-schools, colleges, universities and their various activities
  • alumni groups who represent various companies and organizations
  • hobby, industry and skill-related groups of all kinds.

For sure you will find something that interests you - or you can create your own group.

Join the Groups that you are already involved in, the groups that you have been involved in and the groups that interest you. Once you have joined a group you can browse their discussion threads and, if you like, you can participate.

Linked-In users can also ask Questions and/or post Answers. You can participate in these discussions as with the Groups feature - but you don't need to join a group first.

Recommendations

After you connect with people you can browse their profiles. As with your profile they will have some introductory text about themselves and a list of the places they've worked or the projects they've worked on.

Linked-In has a nice feature called Recommendations. In the top-right corner of each profile there is a link called Recommend this person. After each job or project description there is a similar link inviting you to recommend the work the person did at that job or on that project. This is a great feature - I'm sure you'll like it!

Clicking on one of the Recommendation links allows you to type a comment about the associated contact. Once you are satisfied with what you have written it will appear on your profile. Your contact will be able to review the text that you have written and decide if he wants it to appear on his profile or not.

Start by reading some of the recommendations that other people have written for your contacts. At first it's surprisingly difficult to think of a few nice words about a friend or colleague - so reading the existing recommendations will help you get started writing your own.

Once you have written a few recommendations you will find that it's easy, relatively speaking, to get some recommendations back! Note, though, that I say it's relatively easy - it would be easier if we practiced writing these recommendations so that we could reply quickly when we get a request for one. Unfortunately most people find it difficult and time consuming to write. They often take a long time to respond. Be patient - they are holding back because they're waiting for inspiration! The delay only means that you'll enjoy it more when it arrives.

Personal Privacy

Linked-In is a business. They make their money by selling to you a service. In the end, truth be told, most web-based services will work very hard to exploit the information you provide so that they can get every possible penny out of it. This means that you need to maintain a certain level of vigilance regarding your personal information. You will want to make sure that it's only being used in ways that you approve of.

For the most part, Linked-In seems to make most of their money by making it easy for people to network together. Head-hunters, for example, use Linked-In to post job openings. Job seekers use Linked-In to apply for jobs. The head-hunters are paying for their job postings; they also pay for something called In-Mail so that they can contact potential hires like you.

As such, Linked-In tries to discourage you from making your email address public, they try to discourage you from including people you don't really know in your contact network. They do this because they want you to be able to provide solid references when you introduce one contact to another. If you follow their logic it makes quite a bit of sense in many contexts - and it seems to work in favor of the user community (though you can still network with people you don't know if you want to - and many people do.)

The Linked-In software generally protects most of your information for you. Your contacts can generally see your profile and you can block access to some things even from your contacts. You can create a Public Profile that displays some information about you - but it's limited. (It's an interesting exercise to compare the privacy of your personal information in Linked-In with that of Facebook.)

To edit your privacy settings, click on the small "Account and Settings" link at the very top of the page on the right-side. This will take you to a page from which you can edit all kinds of things in your account. You might want to visit this page from time to time to review the settings. You should also try accessing your profile while you are not logged-in so that you can see what strangers will see.

If you have turned-on your public profile you should be able to find it (after a few weeks,) with Google. Start your search criterion with the site prefix to restrict the results to Linked-In. Remember to use double quotes around your name, like this:

Search For: site:linkedin.com "Sam Azer"

If you click on the above example you should find my public profile in the search results. Try it again with your name instead of mine - it should work just as well. (Remember that Google only updates their index every few weeks - you might have to wait three months or more before your profile appears in the Google index.)

Business Benefits

Most people want to know what immediate benefits they can get from Linked-In. I suppose the best answer depends largely on the type of business you are in. My personal attitude is that there isn't much you can get out of life without first making an effort and giving it some time. However, there are some immediate benefits available through Linked-In:

  • Knowledge and Understanding. First and foremost are the discussions held in the various Groups. In practice I have found some of the discussions to be of great value. They often include excellent information - sometimes with links to additional information of great value.

    It's not the web technology or Linked-In software that makes the difference here. Part of the reason for the value of the discussions is their focus. Mostly the value comes from the knowledge and experience of the users. The Linked-In user community discusses specific issues that (a) they know about and (b) they are interested in. Compare that with some of the posts you find, for example, on some news web sites: People in general are interested in just about everything - but they often have no idea what they're talking about.

    I've learned a great deal by simply browsing the Linked-In Group discussions - and I'm proud of having at least tried to participate on occasion! I'm sure you'll feel the same way.

  • Networking. Depending on what you are looking for there are different ways to benefit from access to the Linked-In community.

    If you use the free service exclusively you can easily access your own network. You can download a list of contacts at any time and send email to all your contacts - though I encourage you to avoid adding to the already exaggerated spam problem! It's just as easy to target your emails to the contacts they most apply to.

    You can also search through the Linked-In community as a whole. What can you search for? Just about anything. If you are looking for Venture Capital from people who have a background in VOIP - you can search for those keywords. There is no charge for this - but the number of search results is limited and it's not always easy to contact strangers through Linked-In. You can get around the restrictions by upgrading to one of the paid account types.

  • Advertising. Again, you can always easily access your own network - but don't forget that you can create Groups at no charge and you can post, as long as the comments are relevant, to the existing Discussions and Questions and Answers. Many, many people will see your Group and your posts.

And there are other benefits...

Remembering your Life

The most important benefits that you can get from Linked-In are probably the long-term ones:

  • Remember to update your profile regularly. At least every three to six months you should review the work you have been doing and try to connect with the people you worked with. Update your C.V., your Resume and your Linked-In account.
  • Once they have connected with you:
    • Write a recommendation for them. Don't worry - it gets easier the more you practice.
    • Ask them for their recommendations of you - and be patient! (Don't forget how hard it was for you to write theirs.)

The main benefit of going through this process, in the long term, will be that you will get to keep in touch with the people you have worked with and remember the things you've done together. You'll be able to email each other when you are looking for something or someone and you'll be able to keep each other informed of relevant opportunities. Your social circle normally only contains the people you have occasional dealings with - but with Linked-In that circle will continue to include people who would otherwise disappear as your lives take you in different directions.

Why Linked-In?

If you've been reading my other articles you may be wondering: Why use Linked-In when you can create your own web site? Having your own personal web site, in general, is a far better idea than using a web site belonging to somebody else. So what's the benefit of using Linked-In?

The answer simply is that there's a community in Linked-In. For sure you should post most of what you do to your own web sites. You get more say in the way your information is managed when it remains under your personal control. That being said: Linked-In is rather limited in the kind of information that they require and, unlike some other services, they don't discourage you from linking to your own web site. You can post a limited amount of information about yourself and link back to your own web site from your Linked-In profile. This will get you the exposure you want and access to the Linked-In user community while only requiring a limited loss of control over your personal information.

Most important is the fact that people who have limited interest in computers and the internet will eventually investigate something like Linked-In. They will get so many invitations from everybody they know that their curiosity will eventually get the better of them and they will poke around. (I've seen this happen many times.) While you can reasonably hope to get them to join Linked-In, getting them to sign-up for your personal mailing list or your RSS feed might be more difficult.

It seems like a win-win proposition to me - try it and let me know if you agree.

For more information, check out the documentation provided by Linked-In:

http://learn.linkedin.com/

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