When I teach Social Media classes to small businesses, I can always count on someone in the audience to ask a question that goes a little something like this:

"I've got limited time to invest in social media, but there seem to be a million sites out there. How do I know which one is worth my time? If I only have time for one, which one should it be?"
Well I generally try to weasel out of that question by telling them I'd use both LinkedIn AND Twitter, the truth is if I had to pick just one, LinkedIn would win, hands down. Let me tell you why.

LinkedIn is one of those sites that tends to get brushed aside in the sexy, shiny world of social media. It's not flashy, we rarely hear buzz about billion dollar valuations and you don't get a billion email reminders to visit because your contacts on LinkedIn are not encouraged to write on your wall, send zombies after you or take lengthy and inane quizzes.

Instead, LinkedIn tends to sit there quietly, waiting for you to realize that it's more than just another place to "add your friends." That it's actually one of the world's best networking tools. That it's "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" translated into the business world. That it's your ticket to building your business.

When I first joined LinkedIn a few years back, I spent an hour or two adding all my friends from my contact list and exploring friend's contact lists to see if I'd missed anyone. I updated my profile, ran a quick search for past co-workers and then moved on my merry way. I'd get a handful of LinkedIn friend requests after conferences, but beyond that, I pretty much ignored it. Par for the course with most of the small business types I've spoken to.

But, forgetting to revisit and make use of LinkedIn is a big mistake if you run the type of business that relies on making contacts.

The Tipping Point

My love affair with LinkedIn started when I happened to login to add some contacts from the Search Engine Strategies conference and saw a notice that a contact of mine, Allison Clark, was now working as a PR consultant for a new small business community site. Turns out, the site was a pretty neat find. I emailed Allison to learn more, ended up connecting with their team.

Not bad for a boring little social networking site, right?

That's when it dawned on me that I was completely missing the boat with LinkedIn. LinkedIn's search feature wasn't about finding contacts I knew, it was about finding contacts I NEEDED to know. The whole "degrees of contact" bubble weren't a fun way to see who knew who, it was invaluable insight into how to make contact with new companies.

(For those new to LinkedIn, the site will track the connections between you and every other member of the site and will tell you how many "degrees" apart you are from any one contact. 1st degree means you know them personally, 2nd degree means you know someone who knows them, 3rd degree means they're a friend of a friend of a friend...and so on.)

Using LinkedIn's Search Feature to Expand Your Business

So how exactly am I using LinkedIn these days? Well, I'm using it to daisy chain my contacts and meet new people. Search Engine Guide and our network of sites has been growing like crazy and with the introduction of our Small Business Marketing Unleashed conference series, we need to expand our network of advertisers and sponsors accordingly. While I've been around long enough to be pretty well connected in the search realm, I've only just begun to get actively involved on the small business side of things. That means working my network to expand my network is essential.

Here's a quick example of what I mean.

For our last show, we'd been in touch with the team at Carbonite, a subscription based service company that backs up your hard drive online. This time around, we'd stumbled across Mozy. Mozy offers up a very similar service, but with prices starting at around $5 a month, we knew they were perfectly targeted for the very small businesses that attend our show. Unfortunately, I didn't know anyone at Mozy. We all know cold calls don't tend to go over well, so I did what I now always do in these situations...I headed to LinkedIn and ran a search.

A simple search for the word "mozy" turned up a slew of Mozy employees.

linkedin1.gif

As I scrolled through the list I quickly stumbled across Dave Robinson, the VP of Marketing for Mozy. The first thing I did was look to see how many degrees separated us. Unfortunately, it was three. That meant I didn't have any direct contacts who knew Dave. Now, I could have used the LinkedIn network to ask my contacts to introduce me to his contacts, but I'm not really comfortable going that route. That said, at least we had a name to work with, which made it much easier to call Mozy and seek out contact information for him.

A few days later, I decided I wanted to try and get in touch with Stamps.com. I headed over to LinkedIn, ran a search and was greeted with a list of possibilities.

linkedin2.gif

Once again, it took a matter of moments to find out Jim Bortnak was the Chief Marketing Officer over there and the person I needed to get in touch with. This time, I had better news: Jim was a second degree contact. That meant I already knew someone who knew him. Next step: click through to his profile page to find out who "someone" was. LinkedIn makes this part simple. On any member's profile page, you'll find a little box that looks something like this:

linkedin3.gif

Quick as that, I could see I had two contacts who knew Jim. One was Ami Kassar, the contact I'd made via Allison Clark. The other was Chris Caputo, a friend of mine who heads up marketing for American Greetings here in Ohio. I knew Chris better than I knew Ami, so I decided to leverage that contact to see if I could reach out to Jim. I used the LinkedIn system to compose a message to Jim and then wrote a separate message that would be sent to Chris asking him to pass my message along.

It's a bit like asking your friend to pass a note to another friend two aisles over in study hall when you're in junior high.

Those are just two examples, but I've used LinkedIn in this way dozens of times over the past few months. Sometimes it pays off in spades. Sometimes you never hear anything back. Either way, it's far more effective than sending blind emails or making cold calls.

Even apart from the convenience factor, you get an added boost of credibility when you are introduced by someone who knows you. I trust my contacts. If they emailed me to say I should speak with someone, I'd speak with them. In the meantime, as a business owner, I hope they say the same about me.

Don't Miss Out on LinkedIn's Potential

That's not the only reason to love LinkedIn of course. There are groups of like minded people for a wide range of topics you can join and make contact with and you can send out questions and survey's to get feedback from your personal contacts. There's great value in those things. But for me, the real value of LinkedIn is in using it to discover the hidden connections among my network and the rest of the world. You never know who you almost know. Why not find out?




Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.





Comments(28)

I completely agree. LinkedIn holds a lot of value that most don't realize and it holds even more potential that I hope the LI team can capture and provide. That's why I recommend to every working person I know that they should get involved with the site.

I second that. In addition to being the modern day resume and Rolodex; the Q&A section is a great way to search for people seeking answers to business problems that you may have some expertise in.

LinkedIn has added a 'status' area where you can post an update to what you're doing that will list in the Network Updates that is listed when you log in.

Wow, I quite new to this and didn't realize that you could use Linkedln in this way.I need to start networking with more people for my own on line business.Thanks for the very informative post..Keep up the great work and if you have any other great tips-please let me know

Jennifer I started to realize the importance of Linkedin when I started to see a significant number of visitors to my site came from it. I've revised my profile, but still didn't realize how I could take advantage of this site's potential. Great article. I'm now going to put to use what you discussed in your column. Thanks.

Jen I totally agree. LinkedIn is a not only a recruiters playground, it is the "professional" Facebook. I've made many contacts and have had some great answers to questions
I've asked. I also read other people's questions as well.

Advanced search is awesome and even if you are not connected to the person you find, you may have a connection otherwise like attended the same school or belong to the same association.

A great tool that shouldn't be missed by small or large businesses alike. Hey, let's hook up on LinkedIn!

Hi there from Switzerland,

another really nice plattform (and very popular here in business network europe) is XING (spelled Crossing).

www.xing.com

Have a look,
saludos
Pablo

I can honestly say that I completely agree.

I am on Facebook after being bullied by friends, but LinkedIn is really useful. It actually does offer a real business benefit to myself from both a personal and business perspective.

I have made some very useful connections through LinkedIn and consequently made some business deals

You have inspired me to take another look at linkedin. I added it to my facebook so now maybe I will use it more.

Good article. It does indeed show how it can be used beyond basic recruiting and HR functions. It can (and often is) used as a great sales tool to find the right person to make your pitch to.

With that said, it doesn't really do a good job with finding good vendors or service providers. For that, I would suggest the upcoming launch of VendorCity, our B2B vendor search and recommendation site.

I like Linkedln too, and xing. Both of these social network has allowed me to re-connect with many of my professional friends.

I signed up to LinkedIn but found it to be not very useful.. but you have made me think again about what can be done on so I will certainly give it another try.

I'll admit that I'm one of those folks who hasn't seen the full value of LinkedIn, and I've been a member for many years. Seems like just as I was about to get to the point of deleting my account and moving on, suddenly there's a lot of activity and articles like yours on it. So, maybe I'll give it a second shot.

Thank you so much for this article. I was one of those people who looked at Linkedin as just a rolodex. You presented a whole new way of using Linkedin and I can't wait to make new contacts.

There are now thousands of social networks that cater to a whole variety of subjects. These smaller, focused sites allow users to connect with like-minded people and give advertisers targeted demographics. Niche social networks are also good for marketers who have a product or service they want to promote that relates to a particular interest. A good place to find such sites is this search engine for social networks

Jennifer,

Let me know if you got what you need from Mozy...

I was reading our latest Google Alerts for "Mozy" and was shocked to find my name on your LinkedIn results for Mozy. I hope you got in touch with Dave. If not, feel free to email me directly and I'll be sure you get to the right person.

If anyone else is looking for an online backup solution that is simple, automated, and secure, please let me know.

And, I'll agree... I ***love*** LinkedIn. It's a great networking tool that has been very valuable to me over the years.

-B

Great article! LinkedIn IS a powerful tool and I do not know how I lived and worked without it for the past couple years. It has helped me network with new and old colleagues and even assisted me with finding new customers for Salesconx (the website I work for). I even made my network double in one day thanks to joining an open networking group! Now I'm connected to thousands of amazing people and hope to connect to thousands more in the coming months.

-Gina
www.salesconx.com

Have a look at entopica
Entopica (http://www.entopica.com) offers unique methods of creating and sharing bookmarks.

It is a new online system that allows you to easily access, categorize, share and store your bookmarks online.

Its free to join and registration is both quick and easy. Discover a whole new world of social bookmarking.

I've been on LinkedIn for a while now and hardly used it but will certainly remedy that soon. Not only did I just learn some very useful stuff about LinkedIn but I was also reminded how much one can motivate and inspire people with an enthusiastic and well written article, as evidenced by all the above comments.

Hi Jennifer,
We met today briefly at PodcampOhio after your viral session- and it made me go look at your blog.
I too, took Linkedin for granted- until I spoke at WebContent2007 and heard Melissa Giovagnoli sing the praises of Linkedin- she's the queen of networking (online and off) and actually runs a site called www.networlding.com
Unlike Facebook- I don't feel like a digital sharecropper on LinkedIn- just borrowing resources from "the man"- and I find it a lot less intrusive. I often use it to find out how much horsepower people I'm about to meet have- who they know, etc.
This is a great post- and I'll probably write about it soon- thanks again for the great session today.

I to was one of those people that brushed LinkedIn aside- knowing that it had a lot of value, but trying to find the best ways to use it. You outlined this perfectly with real life examples. Thank you so much!

I think something that is often overlooked with LinkedIn is its love affair with the search engines. In addition to being an absolutely fantastic networking tool, Google and Yahoo crawl the site constantly and LinkedIn in general is natually interlinked very well. Build some quality backlinks, optimize your 'name' with some quality keywords and you can achieve some quality rankings for competitive terms. As of writing this, my linkedin profile is #14 for 'search marketing specialist' not bad considering there is 2.7 million returned pages in Google.

Great post!
Thanks!

http://www.linkedin.com/in/burda

LinkedIn is the best way to get connected with our co-workers and friends.Credibility increases as your friends and referrals increase.It is a great resource to get exposure to the professional world .It has really got a lot of value, but we need to use it properly. I love this article , hope it will light up the minds of some people.

Great Article, I think one of the things that often happens is that people don’t do the basics well in relation to Linkedin and then wonder why it is they don’t get the result they want from it.
I recently posted about a few simple things that people should do in order to get the best out of Linkedin.

http://pauldrasmussen.blogspot.com/2008/12/linkedin-improving-you-business-network.html

I'm thinking a few day's ago what will i do to improve my knowledge about social site.And i came up with this link that really help me.You dont have to pay just click....

https://www2.gotomeeting.com/tgw/URL/g2w/webinar?Portal=www.gotowebinar.com&Target=webinar/entry/entry.tmpl

LinkedIn is extremely valuable to me as well, considering I'm in business development for a software company. However I found the search functionality a little too basic, so I made a web application that ties into it. You can check it out at: http://www.peopletoucher.com

I would say next to Blackberry eMail, LinkedIn is THE game changer for those in sales & recruiting.

I COMPLETELY agree with you about LinkedIn; it has been so useful to me for all my business networking, and is easily the best corporate tool available on the web these days, ESPECIALLY with all the new features.

Keep bloggin'!

I am a big linkedin fan and am just now realizing its potential. I want to convince my friends to sign up because none of them are on it and they are missing out. This is an article I can show them because it has a lot of good reasons/examples of why to get involved.
-Thanks

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Why LinkedIn Is One Social Network I Couldn't Work Without