LinkedIn has grown to include more than 100 million users worldwide.  It is based on the principle that every person is connected to one another by no more than six degrees of separation from everybody else.  In other words, individuals can connect with one another simply by utilizing their network of contacts.  LinkedIn keeps track of who knows whom and provides a means to connect people based on professional expertise, needs, and interests.

Simply having a LinkedIn account is not enough to add value to a business. A business professional must also have a strategy to effectively network with other professionals on the site.  This is where many business owners and professionals fail to utilize the system and maximize their potential for increased brand awareness and, ultimately, sales.

LinkedIn, when used properly, can help business professionals generate leads, increase their credibility and visibility within their marketplace, communicate more effectively with their network of connections, and manage their brand’s reputation.  Not only do they have the ability to search for prospects amongst their current connections but they can search via their connections’ connections and through the many groups that have formed within the LinkedIn network.  Keep in mind, every time information is changed or added on a profile, that information is disseminated to the web of people connected to the originator of the information.  This means that a small addition can reach thousands of profiles within minutes.  A business professional should make it a priority to make at least one new connection per day.

Participating in groups on LinkedIn provides yet another avenue to reach prospects.  Not only does group membership make it easier to connect to new people but it provides an additional arena for disseminating a message to other professionals with similar interests.  Whether it is a professional group such as a marketing group or a group for people who love to ski, finding groups that match the demographic of your target audience provides a free advertising opportunity.

A person’s profile provides the chance to make a good first-impression on a new connection.  The most effective profiles on LinkedIn are those that share personal as well as business information.

One of the first mistakes LinkedIn users make is not getting their profiles to 100%.  This includes completing their employment history with a description of the responsibilities, large projects, and major clients pertinent to each job.  Be sure to include an appropriate-for-business photograph even if it is just a snapshot.  This not only immediately increases trust but also allows past connections to recognize a person more easily.

Using keywords, much like optimizing a website with Google or other search engines, is how people find each other.  Using industry-specific terms when creating a profile can mean the difference between being found and being overlooked.

A fundamental networking strategy is to be seen as the person with answers.  Whether it is giving a referral or providing information on a product or service, if knowledge is useful and shared, it gives credibility to the information provider.

In conclusion, the strength of LinkedIn and other social networking websites is in knowing how to use them to maximize exposure and networking opportunities.  LinkedIn provides a platform for business owners and professionals to connect in a way never before possible.  Knowing what the site has to offer and how to use it can strengthen a company’s hold in its market, improve its reputation, and ultimately improve its bottom line.