LinkedIn has been around for a while now and recently they passed 20 million users. Unless you live under a rock, you probably have received at least one invitation to connect with someone on LinkedIn.
That said, I frequently hear, “Okay, so I have an account and a couple of people have connected to me. What can I do with LinkedIn?”
Recommendations – start by recommending people in your network and then ask to be recommended. You control what appears on your profile, so nobody can bash you. It’s about making others look good and asking for the same in return.
Prospecting – if you are trying to make contact with a particular company, you can search for people who might have connection with a person the company. Once you have created enough connections, you will often find that you are one or two connections away from a potential client. You can then request an introduction or go all old school and pickup the phone to your contact and ask for a referral.
Questions and Answers – LinkedIn has an active Q&A section where members post questions and others reply with answers. Answering questions is a way to show your expertise, as members can mark the answers as “good” or “best” which earns you some LinkedIn “street cred.” I’ve actually gotten some business opportunities for myself and some colleagues as a direct result of answering questions.
Groups – there are a whole bunch of professional organizations, alumni groups, former employee groups, etc. that provide another way to link to members. I prefer this method over trying to connect to everyone on the planet. The groups feature in LinkedIn is still maturing, so keep watch for what happens here.