Five Ways You Should Be Using LinkedIn

LinkedIn.com went public today. The IPO started at $45, and shares are currently trading at over $100 and climbing. It has been a long time since a tech IPO generated this much excitement--which leads to the inevitable question, "What is it?"

LinkedIn is a social networking site focused on business. It was launched in May 2003 P.F.B. (pre-Facebook) and is used mainly as a means of professional networking. Instead of connecting with family or long-lost high school friends as you do on Facebook, you connect with coworkers you work with now, or colleagues from the past. With more than 100 million registered users, LinkedIn can connect you with a valuable network of professional contacts.

As a bonus, the LinkedIn app for iOS is one of the best apps available.
Here are five ways that you should tap into the LinkedIn excitement and take advantage of what LinkedIn has to offer:

1. Find a Job

LinkedIn is a favorite haunt of recruiters and headhunters. Career sites like Dice.com or Monster are nice too, but LinkedIn has the added element of networking. You can let potential employers know about your skills and background through your profile--just like posting your résumé on a job site--but it helps when you are a friend of a friend of the hiring manager and you can get a credible referral through your LinkedIn network.

2. Build Professional Relationships

Success or failure can often be measured by the size of your Rolodex. (For the younger audience, that's an old box that would sit on your desk holding the equivalent of index cards with contact information. Now we just call it your Outlook Contacts.) LinkedIn provides a means for you to branch out and make new connections within your field or your company, and to leverage the connections of your connections when necessary.

3. Conduct Research

For a journalist, LinkedIn can be a very valuable resource. The search tools provided in LinkedIn enable very granular searches for LinkedIn members that work in a certain industry, or for a specific company--or even members that used to work for a given company in case you want some dirt that current employees aren't at liberty to discuss. You can also research a company before you go into an interview, or accept a job with a new company, so you know what you're getting into.

4. Seek Advice

Long before there was a Quora, you could use LinkedIn Answers to pose a question to your entire LinkedIn network. Whether you are trying to decide between a MacBook Air or a Dell laptop, or want recommendations for the best photo-editing app for an Android smartphone, you can turn to your network of business professionals for guidance.

5. Establish a Community

You can form a group on LinkedIn dedicated to a specific topic or industry. You can then invite others to join that group and foster a community to debate and discuss and learn from one another. It is also an opportunity to demonstrate your own knowledge and expertise by sharing what you know within the group.

Granted, you can accomplish many of these same things using Facebook--I am connected with hundreds of colleagues through my Facebook social network. But LinkedIn lets you focus on professional business relationships without getting distracted by Farmville or Mafia Wars, and it has a rich set of tools designed specifically to help members reap valuable information from the network.

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