Expanding Your LinkedIn Network: Tips on using the business-networking site

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Let's look at ways to expand your LinkedIn network, the online network of more than 11 million experienced professionals from around the world, representing 150 industries.

Before we go on, I want to credit Shally Steckerl for many of the ideas that I used to build my LinkedIn network. Check out Shally's blog on Becoming a Promiscuous Linker on LinkedIn. Shally has done a huge amount of research and has documented what works.

Should You Only Connect with People You Know?
This is a great question and one that seems to get people riled up. There's no right answer, but look closely at what you're trying to achieve. Building a small, tight network of people you know and who know you well is a great (but limiting) idea.

Let's say you commit to building a network of only people whose contact information you have and vice versa. You probably see them regularly or at least on occasion, and if you call them, they'll happily refer people to you. Most of the value in those relationships you'll have whether or not you add them to your LinkedIn network.

Or you could choose to expand your network with a wider range of people: in your industry, who worked where you worked, attended your school, live in your city, or those who find you. It may be possible to create a LinkedIn network that includes both a small, tight network and a large, loose network.

Really Work on Your LinkedIn Profile
If you want to be someone who others will want to network with, create a LinkedIn profile that's engaging to the reader. It doesn't work to spend five minutes creating a basic profile with nothing more than your current employer and a few stray bits of information. Think of this as creating your resume. Would you spend five minutes creating a new resume? You want people who are related to you in some way to be able to find you. If it isn't in your profile, then they won't find it. Put more information on your LinkedIn profile than you have on your resume. Everything you list increases your chances of being found.

LinkedIn displays a Profile Completeness indicator when you display your profile. Pay attention and do what you need to do to get that up to 100%.

Invite Some People
LinkedIn gives you 3,000 invitations for you to extend to others to build your network. That will be more than enough for most people, but it is possible to request more invitations in blocks of up to 500 if you run out.

To get started, invite the people you know well who are already on LinkedIn. It's really easy to find them by using the tools that LinkedIn provides. You can check your address book to see who uses LinkedIn in Yahoo!, AOL, Gmail, and Hotmail. Or you can download the Outlook toolbar.

Once identified, anyone you know who's already on LinkedIn is likely to accept your invitation. A word of warning though: don't even think of spamming people you don't know. If enough people complain about you, your account could be suspended. LinkedIn invitations come with standard text. It's much better to write a personal message to each person you invite and perhaps remind them who you are.

Invite Some More People
Perhaps you're a member of a mailing list or another networking vehicle? Determine whether it is appropriate to invite the members to join your LinkedIn network.

Inviting Others to Invite You
You can take your network to the next level if you become someone who others invite. This can be as simple as including your LinkedIn profile (mine is http://www.linkedin.com/in/simonmeth) in your signature block of your email or perhaps listing it in directories or anywhere else that you're listed.

Other folks can invite you, but they'll need your email address to do so directly. That's easy for ERE members because you could always send an email from within ERE to ask for an email address. If you're a good sourcer, you could find it on the Web or you could even pick up the phone and call and ask directly. Think of places to list your LinkedIn profile where the right people will see it.

Should You Become an Open Networker?
Many people choose to become open networkers, which means they're open to receiving invitations to connect from anyone. We do that because we're interested in receiving a wide range of invitations so that our network reach can become as large as possible. Often, open networkers display their email address as part of their LinkedIn profile. If you do that, this enables anyone to invite you directly. There are also a variety of open-networker opportunities such as TopLinked, MyLink500, and several Yahoo! Groups such as LinkedInLions, MyLinkedInPowerForum, and LinkedInnovators. Most of these groups require that you show your affiliation on your LinkedIn profile. Doing so makes it even easier for others to find you.

Connect with Some Power Networkers
You may choose not to become an open networker. You can still gain some of the benefit by connecting with some power networkers who are often also open networkers. These are often the same people mentioned above who list their own email address in their profile. Find power networkers who you either know or who are open to invitations and invite them. You can take advantage of the large networks of many others very quickly this way.

Of course, before inviting someone, consider what value you'll add to their network. Your network may be still be small, but is it strong? If you only have a few people in your network, it's probably too soon to invite open networkers. First demonstrate your commitment to building your network, and then invite the professionals.

Join Some LinkedIn Groups
Find and join groups that relate to you to expand your network. You'll be connected with all the group members, but you can also invite members of particular interest into your network.

Consider creating a group of your own. That's what Shally did with his CyberSleuths group. Also, check Shally's LinkedIn Cheatsheet for ways to find more groups to join using his group hack for Live and Google.

A Word on Spam
Many people limit their online activity in the misguided attempt to avoid spam. Think about it for a moment. Is it really possible to avoid spam?

I'm happy for anyone to have my email address. It is proudly listed on my LinkedIn profile and my website. The real solution to spam is to get a great spam filter and not to limit your network. Always keep in mind, however, that many people are very protective of their email addresses, so never publish someone's address without permission.

What's Next?
The good news is that, with a little care and attention, your profile can attract attention from numerous LinkedIn users. Your network will build day after day, but it does take some up-front effort and maintenance. This should be easy for staffing and sales professionals who are in the business of networking with others.

There really isn't any bad news. You do need to keep up the effort, but once you get going, we're talking about only minutes each day. The key is to do it each and every day. Won't you join me?

Simon Meth  is contributer to www.ere.net

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