bridgeI recently asked a group of business development associates whether they had ever read a useful article on LinkedIn. Not surprisingly, 90 percent said yes. LinkedIn’s (many) updates are conscientiously evolving it into a daily newspaper, shifting its role from dormant resume file to “give us 15 minutes each morning and we’ll make you a better professional each day.”

But 0% of those folks had ever *posted* a useful article on LinkedIn.

They admitted they use LinkedIn to find industry news, but they let other people – including competitors – control the message.

To which I say: You shouldn’t be on LinkedIn.

Share on LinkedIn. Teach on LinkedIn. Discuss, debate, learn, grow, engage on LinkedIn. But please, for the love of Pete, don’t just BE on LinkedIn.

If you want to be a better networker and make your social presence into a useful tool, stop *looking at* LinkedIn and start *engaging with* it. It is a business network. And like all networking, it requires consistent, conscientious effort.

Find Interested Audiences, then Talk To Them

According to LinkedIn, people who post in groups get an average of four times the profile views of those who do not. Of those in my sales associate survey, 70 percent were members of a group, but only 10 percent had posted to a group. The Group Statistics feature can help you find active groups. Healthcare Executives, for example, has grown from 7,800 members to 138,000 in four years and recently had 65 separate discussions and 397 comments in a single week.

When you join a group, you walk into a room full of interested peers and potential clients: Open your mouth!

What should you talk about? On your personal status updates, consider sharing your company’s corporate posts. (Not too much, though – balance promotional content with non-salesy industry context and other insights.) And as you scan news that’s important to you each day, make it habit to choose one piece that resonates, and share it with your network, either as a status update or in a group to prompt discussion. Do more than just posting a link: Add value by adding a comment or context.

Actively Connect, and Connect Actively

Surveyed respondents were also fairly passive in their client pursuits. While 90 percent had researched user profiles for possible new business connections, none had used LinkedIn to identify colleagues connected to a target and request an introduction.

LinkedIn connections, and the connections of your colleagues, are warm referrals waiting to happen. If you have a premium account, use TeamLink to find out who in your own company might have a relationship with a target – maybe someone in another business line has an existing relationship.

And even those without premium accounts can see the six degrees of Kevin Bacon that connect us to an influential person-in-common. LinkedIn itself provides useful prompts for sending a quick note – job title updates, work anniversaries, and updates on who has connected to whom can all serve as hooks to connect or reconnect.

Play the game, too. It’s not fair to expect others to agree to the favor of an introduction if you’re not providing any yourself. If you think two people would benefit from knowing one another, click “Share” on their LinkedIn profiles to send personalized messages introducing them.

Be Useful, Get Found, Get Known

LinkedIn snowballs your exposure to potential clients and, from a media relations standpoint, to reporters covering your industry.

Reporters no longer have time to do a lot of research on whom to call for a story. They need to have resources at their fingertips, and they mine social media sites like LinkedIn to find resources fast. If you want to be found by reporters seeking sources, and you don’t already have the Wall Street Journal on speed dial, then it is not enough to be an expert. You must be a visible expert. Post content to industry groups, add industry keywords to your summary and job descriptions, and engage in group discussions to take your LinkedIn presence from passive to active and to capitalize on the business and media benefits of electronic networking.

Image courtesy of Hans Kylberg