Even if you’re not familiar with all of the new developments in the social networking arena, chances are you’ve used LinkedIn to connect with people professionally. What you may not know is that LinkedIn lets you do a lot more than just connect yourself to friends and coworkers. Its Groups feature lets you join groups associated with everything from employers to alumni associations to fields of interest. And its Answers feature lets you pose a question that anybody can answer. You can also respond to questions and become an Expert if you provide one of the best answers.
Here are a few key rules to follow when you’re using LinkedIn:
1. The more complete your profile, the more you’re going to get out of the experience. That said, if you’re concerned about privacy, LinkedIn doesn’t give you the huge menu of options that a service like Facebook does. You can keep your profile from showing up in general Web searches, and you can alter what people who look for you on LinkedIn see, but even the most basic setting requires that you disclose your location.
2. Try to perform some sort of activity on LinkedIn at least once a week. Make a new connection, post a recommendation, or update your Status (that’s the box that asks “What are you working on?”).
3. Don’t join more Groups than you can realistically participate in – say, a half-dozen or so. And make sure they’re Groups that can help enrich your work experience or ones to which you feel you can make a meaningful contribution.
4. For the first month or two that you’re part of a Group, stick to answering rather than asking questions. That lets people know who you are and establish you as a credible expert. After that, feel free to start asking questions.
LinkedIn may lack a lot of the immediacy and pizzazz of newer social media tools, but this “big ol’ MS Outlook in the sky” is one of the few social networking resources out there specifically for professionals. Unlike Facebook, you don’t have to worry about walling off your professional life from your public life – it’s purely business. And unlike Twitter, you don’t have to boil down your thoughts into 140-character snippets.
One word of caution: Do not accept invitations from people you don’t know, and be careful about what information you reveal to people who aren’t in your network. Hackers and identity thieves are getting sneakier about researching their targets online, and it’s in both your personal and professional interest to make sure that information about your work life doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. One new form of phishing, called “spear phishing” due to its targeted nature, involves the hacker finding executives on LinkedIn or similar services, identifying the executive’s coworkers and reports, and then sending out bogus emails as the executive demanding information such as user names and passwords. People who would otherwise smell a phishing attempt are more likely to respond because they believe the request is coming from a higher-up in the company. Pretty sneaky, and one more reason to be vigilant about who you connect to – and how much your connections see – on LinkedIn.