When it comes to accessing social networks during office hours, the first two things that come to mind are definitely procrastination and wasting time. This may be true for Facebook or even Twitter, but LinkedIn is different. Recognized as the leading social network for professionals, LinkedIn lies at the core of three key areas: people, technology and information. Rather than help you kill time, it’s actually designed to make you more productive – and is much more than just a massive database of people. In terms of business objectives, it can help connect you to the most relevant people in your industry, share your company’s messaging and content with qualified prospects, and help push your career forward. The trick to using LinkedIn in a strategically productive manner is: have a purpose.

If you’ve logging in to see who’s viewed your profile, read customized Pulse content and scroll through news feed updates – that’s great, but you’ll have to determine what your specific goal is gain actual value from the network. Asher Abraham, who hosted a recent Oktopost webinar on The Psychology of LinkedIn, views the social network as a “zone of productivity,” and believes that having a sense of purpose will drive you to be more productive. Additionally, he introduced a 5-step process aimed at ensuring that LinkedIn members maximize the social network’s potential.

How exactly do you become more productive and successful on LinkedIn?

1. Branding

When it comes to creating a professional profile, LinkedIn is all about communicating your mission, expertise and value to others. Look at your profile, and ask yourself: Does this clearly communicate my professional mission and contribution to the marketplace? Here’s a short checklist to make sure:

  • Upload a high-quality, professional looking photo of yourself
  • Use words that express trust and credibility to describe yourself
  • Include optimized keywords that will make it easy to find you
  • Clearly explain the skills, expertise and value you bring to the table
  • Differentiate yourself from others in the industry
  • Request that colleagues provide endorsements and recommendations
  • Include your contact information so those outside your network can connect
  • Add visual media, such as images and videos, to make it more interesting

At the end of the day,you have to approach the task as an entrepreneur, and think of your profile as a way to “personally brand” yourself. To successfully do this, it’s time to stop updating your profile solely when you’re looking for a job – it should reflect who you are today, and needs to be modified based on your most recently acquired skills. As you acquire more talents, become more specialized in your expertise, or work on new projects – update your profile. When a LinkedIn member views your profile, he or she should be virtually encountering the current, professional you – and not the version of you from a few months ago. Within a few seconds, they should be able to clearly identify your mission as a professional, and your distinct value.

2. Positioning

Following the recommendations above, positioning entailing demonstrating your subject matter expertise. When writing your profile, keep in mind the “ideal person” who you would like it to be most applicable for (an employer, potential customer, etc.) For example, include keywords in your headline that convey credibility in an engaging manner. People want to see an authentic person – don’t just hide behind a company description, drill-down to your distinct talents. For example, specify not just the general industry you work for, but the specific niche market. Also, if you’ve achieved measurable results in terms of ROI, new customers, budgets – highlight this in your accomplishments. As mentioned above, endorsements or recommendations from colleagues or supervisors can help further enforce your success in these positions.

3. Intentional Networking

LinkedIn isn’t just about building a large network – it’s about actively building the right network. Hundreds of connections are no use to anyone if they aren’t relevant to your professional mission. When networking, first think about the major difference that exists between selling, and educating. The best way to connect with people who matter is by showing them how you can help – when you post in Discussion Groups, add as much value to the community as possible by writing thought-out responses, curating insightful content and contributing original ideas. Basically, when posting, make sure you come across as clearly trying to add value to the marketplace. Ultimately, proactively helping others is the best way to position yourself as an expert in the field.

4. Listen, Listen, Engage

Our mothers, and the author William Arthur Ward, advise us that: “Before you speak, listen.“ This holds true in real life as well as online – but when it comes to LinkedIn, you should be listening – A LOT. Before you post to a Discussion Group or engage with a thought leader from your industry, listen to what people are saying. The more value you provide to your targeted community the more high-quality relationships you will build. If members really appreciate the recommendations and thoughts you express, they will be more willing to go the extra mile to help you in return; they might even introduce you to others. In addition, listening can also mean using LinkedIn to stay up to date on what others are doing, in order to better engage with them. Next time you log in, under the Network tab up top, click on contacts – and see whom you can congratulate on a promotion, new job or birthday. You can even add notes about specific contacts to help keep track of your relationship.

5. Taking it Offline

Ironically, the goal of using LinkedIn, is to actually get off of LinkedIn. If you network and engage with others, but these professional relationships all remain virtual and never evolve into a phone call, meeting or interview – it’s simply not worthwhile. The whole objective is to build up your trust and credibility online, to the point that enables you to connect with industry influencers offline.