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Please excuse the aggressive title, but if you are a professional there are many reasons why you at least need to have a presence on LinkedIn and should utilize the platform as your primary social networking tool.

First some background on myself. Like most of you, I received an invite from someone that I don't even remember now, but I signed up on a day in 2004 and really didn't do anything with the site except for accepting invites from people that I knew who invited me. That all changed when in 2008, after building my career in Asia and looking for a job for the first time in the US without an established network, I took the plunge and decided to use LinkedIn as my primary networking tool. I soon became a heavy user and increased my contacts from the then 100+ to the now 11,500+.

As mentioned above, the primary impetus for me to start utilizing LinkedIn on a daily basis was because of my first job search in several years. After looking for a job back in the US without the same type of local network that my American peers enjoyed made it a challenging time to attack the “hidden job market” (which we all know is where 70% of the jobs are "found" or "created"). I realized I needed to be a better networker, and thus my LinkedIn journey began.

As I started becoming a heavy user, connecting to people beyond my immediate group of friends and co-workers, as well as actively reaching out to recruiters, I started to become the “go to” person for LinkedIn in my close network of family and friends. Many acquaintances had not heard of or did not understand LinkedIn in the same depth that I did. I could look at the official LinkedIn Q&A sections and begin answering questions on using LinkedIn to others. Finally, as I built out my network to encompass thousands of direct connections, I would offer to help anyone if they had a question on LinkedIn. Many people seemed to find value in what I had to said, and thus, I created my own blog on the subject (http://linkedinquestions.wordpress.com) and am even in the process of writing a book on the subject (E-Mail me [nealschaffer at gmail dot com] if you would like to be notified when it is published or are interested in collaborating).

Hopefully this gives you enough background on myself and why I am uniquely qualified to tell you why you need to be on LinkedIn. But LinkedIn is not just about looking for a job, and I continued to extensively use it after finding my job. So why do you need a presence on the site?

1) Getting Back in Touch
Are you one of the many members of classmates.com? Do you use it to keep in touch with people from your past school days? Think of LinkedIn as an extension of that, with the ability of directly connecting you (without additional costs to send E-Mails or other restrictions that classmates.com has) to not only former classmates but also former colleagues. After you have graduated from college more and more people in your network are professionals, not classmates, so LinkedIn fills this gap nicely. This is the primary reason that I find most executives have a presence on LinkedIn, and this is a unique attribute to LinkedIn that no other social networking site at the present has.

2) Being Found
Once you have a presence on LinkedIn, just as you can find your former colleagues, they can also find you. Once you fill in your profile, you are added to the database of more than 30 million users worldwide, and LinkedIn has excellent search tools to allow people to be able to easily find you. Being found is also important if you are in transition or thinking of a new job, but more on that angle below.

3) Acquire Expertise
LinkedIn has many groups that are open for professionals to join, and by joining these groups you not only get potential access to directly contacting experts in your industry, you can also join in group discussions and read group news that are specific to your industry. I believe that most industries are covered, and the largest of these groups have anywhere from a few thousand to one hundred thousand members! I know of executives who have landed new jobs in new markets who use these groups to acquire new expertise. On the other hand, LinkedIn also provides a great Q&A functionality that you can use to ask the network of 30 million professionals any question you'd like. I have answered questions on "What is the best CRM?" as well as asked questions on "What Websites Do You Recommend to Self-Publish My Book?" The answers section is completely searchable, so you can really learn a lot and feel comfortable knowing that it is coming from real professionals, not just your standard Internet message board.

4) Career Growth
I don't want to be blunt in titling this "Looking for a Job", because even if you are not looking for a job, a network should be your insurance for your future career growth. Companies are organic entities whose needs change and do not and cannot promise you a guarantee that your job will be there 10 years from now, next year, or even next month. That is why you need to be on LinkedIn so that you can both find potential companies and recruiters as well as be found by them. Even if you are happy in your job, it can't hurt to have a minimal profile on LinkedIn and receive contacts from recruiters in your industry or specialty who may be able to help you out in the future, can it? LinkedIn is free career insurance!

5) Sales & Marketing
One thing I would like to make clear is that LinkedIn is not a tool to sell your product on, and you will be removed from LinkedIn should you decide to spam people or message boards with adverts. That being said, I have used LinkedIn from a sales & marketing prospective to a) find potential customers, b) map out their organizations, c) request introductions inside the organizations, d) look for potential partners or distributors, and e) look for potential service providers. In fact, I hired a translation service because I found them on LinkedIn! Why start from scratch looking for a service provider when you can utilize a network of real professionals to help you find them? Which leads me to...

6) Your Trusted Network of Advisors
I have an older brother (well, I have four of them) who I trust in terms of asking for help in mapping out and executing on my professional goals. He once asked me, "Neal, do you have a trusted network of advisors?" In other words, for anything in life, do you have a trusted person you can ask for advice on? Do you have a financial advisor? A legal advisor? A career coach? A reliable web marketing adviseor? etc. These advisors (you don't necessarily have to pay for their services if they are in your tight network) are essential in not only bouncing ideas off of them for your professional career, but can even help you out on personal affairs. I have met many in my trusted network through LinkedIn, followed up by actual one-to-one meetings with them at a Starbucks over a cup of latte (I'm a tall soy latte person for all of you marketers out there).

7) Connect
I recently read a book about how to find a job which said that if you meet 100 people and meet 100 people that they introduce to you, you will most definitely be able to find a job. I have not tried out this exercise, but the whole idea is that you never know how someone, or someone that they know, may be able to help you out when you need it. I openly connect with anyone on LinkedIn because you never know how you can help them or vice-versa. Case in point: I recently accepted an invite from someone who was interested in relocating to Asia and looking for job advice. Six months later when I was looking for advice from him, he was able to guarantee an interview from the lead recruiter of a very large enterprise software company. This could not have happened if a) we never connected and b) I did not offer to help him out.

The real key to all of the above is to become an open networker, which in essence is having the attitude that whenever you help people out it will return to you as you increase your bank account of karma. If you do not believe this and start heavily contacting people without offering to help them out, you may not be as successful on your LinkedIn journey. But if you are helpful to others even when you don't need to be, believe me, it will make it easier for people to respond to you and to ask them for advice when you really need it.

I hope that I have opened your eyes if you are not currently on LinkedIn, and if you are on LinkedIn I hope I have provided you advice as to how you can become a more effective user of the platform to meet your own objective. I am an open networker, so please feel free to go to my profile (www.linkedin.com/in/nealschaffer) and send me an invite. I also welcome your comments as I am always a humble learner in this game of life...

Happy networking!

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Comment by Neal Schaffer on February 10, 2009 at 5:44pm
Thanks for the comment and note on Facebook. Yes, there are a lot of people from our generation on Facebook, but the primary purpose of Facebook, in my opinion, is still pretty much a "social" one. LinkedIn, on the other hand, has a professional approach, and thus attracts more serious-minded executives. It is good information that you share that you can keep a business group separate from a personal group on Facebook, but with LinkedIn there is obviously no need to do that, and indeed the objective as that your personal friends could help you in your business networking by connecting you with someone at another company.

On the other hand, I do hear of people who are trying to put their Facebook connections into real business. I have decided to focus primarily on LinkedIn, but if you search out there I am sure you can find good information on how to go about doing this. Then again, maybe you can be the pioneer and contribute a blog post about your Facebook experiences to Trender Research!

And I won't even get started with Twitter...but I've run across people who swear that it is deal for business.

Did I mention Ecademy? Fast Pitch? etc. etc. I think the most important thing is to pick your platform and stick to it until you either understand deep enough to make it work for you or you have already been successful at it. I'll move on to other sites once I write my book on LinkedIn...
Comment by Todd on February 10, 2009 at 3:09pm
Thank you for the great post Neal. I joined LinkedIn and accepted the contacts that have come my way but I haven't really done anything with it. I just have not taken the time to build my network. Which is crazy because in my line of work (real estate) so much of what I'm doing is trying to build more contacts. After reading your post, I am going to devote an afternoon to working on it. I have never tried myspace or plaxo but about 6 weeks ago, I did sign up for Facebook after so many old friends and family kept asking me why I wasn't on there. I couldn't believe the amount of people out there that I knew and people I had forgotten about. It's really amazing! Although I too thought (and still think) it is for younger people I have found so many people in their 40's, 50's and up who are on it. We recently discussed this at our office meeting and our manager told us that there is a way to group your contacts so that your business friends aren't seeing what your other friends are saying/posting, etc. Almost no one in my office knew that and we were all glad to find that out. I would be glad to post directions on how to do that for anyone interested.
Comment by Neal Schaffer on February 4, 2009 at 11:01am
Please try LinkedIn and feel free to invite me and contact me if I can be of help in assisting you reach your LinkedIn objective.
Comment by Ellen Bonner on February 4, 2009 at 10:59am
Sold. I have been invited to LinkedIn several times, but only recently got onto Facebook. I honestly don't like having to respond to all sorts of useless banter most of the time. I am a Type A time should equal production type of person. Between cell phone and work number calls/messages, paper mail, email, and lastly my home phone, I feel so distracted by all these means of contacting me. I may take myself off Facebook and try LinkedIn now. Thank you for the information.
Comment by Neal Schaffer on January 30, 2009 at 2:38pm
Brian, thanks for your comments. I think we should standardize on LinkedIn because it is for "professionals" like us...FaceBook is just too spread out demographically speaking. LinkedIn also has added contact information on each user profile once you connect with them so it is starting to compete with Plaxo (which I have never been on nor find a need for). If you want to have your own personal website, and you want to do it to show off your photos for instance, why not just set up an account on www.smugmug.com and password protect it? Which brings to mind that if you are searchable on FaceBook, what you enter on there (embarrasing photos from your college days, for instance) can be used AGAINST you if it is not appropriate and found by a recruiter or potential employer! Leave FaceBook for the teens and twenty somethings and standardize on LinkedIn would be my advice. However, there are some who believe that FaceBook will one day compete with LinkedIn by offering a "FaceBook Adult" service...LinkedIn is starting to add more restrictions versus the very free and open FaceBook, so this would be an interesting development indeed...
Comment by Brian Mahony on January 30, 2009 at 2:31pm
Neal, great post. Thanks for your insights here. We have had other Trenders talk about FaceBook and at some point I would love for folks to chime in about the plusses and minusses of LinkeIn, FaceBook, and others like MySpace and Plaxo. I think I am like many others that feel some sense of "Social Network" fatigue even though I know they are great tools. Perhaps we can all agree to standardize on LinkeIn and FaceBook, and call it a day? I have to be honest-- I get invited from Plaxo people all the time but mostly ignore them. Should we try to build multiple networks or focus?

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