Did you know that LinkedIn is now the second largest social network in the U.S.? Since the company’s IPO, the company has built visibility and expanded its user base. LinkedIn reported 33.9 million visitors in June, up 60% year over year, still far behind Facebook’s 160.9 million U.S. visitors but passing the 33.5 million visitors MySpace reported.

So, how can local business owners use this prominent social network to promote their businesses online? In part one of this series, we’ll look at how to use a personal profile to promote your business. Next time, we’ll cover how to use a company profile on LinkedIn.

First, you’ll want to set up a LinkedIn profile for yourself as a business person. Not only will this display your expertise and credentials, it will also give you the opportunity to connect with other business people on LinkedIn and use the site to its full capacity. And, to create and manage a company profile, you’ll need a personal profile.

1. Create a Personal Profile – Since LinkedIn is focused on business, creating a compelling profile and using it to engage personally on the site is a great approach for promoting your own business. Make sure to put your business name and title at the top of your profile to boost visibility of your brand on the site and include a photo of yourself to add credibility. Learn more about creating a profile on LinkedIn.

2. Connect Liberally – After you’ve created a profile, you can find contacts you may already know by syncing your email address book and other social profiles. You can also find people by searching the site under “people.” Add contacts you know both from your community and beyond, such as employees, partners, suppliers, former colleagues and personal contacts, because in LinkedIn, your connections can help build your network. 

3. Promote Your Profile – To grow your LinkedIn network and expand your opportunities to network on the site, make sure to promote your own profile by adding a link to it in your email signature, linking from any online profiles you may have, and even adding it to a page about you on your business website.

4. Join & Participate in Groups – Another great way to network on LinkedIn is to join groups, where you can meet, interact, and share information with people who have similar interests. To find good groups to join, start by toggling the search bar to “groups” and search for your city, state, industry, or other keywords that are important in your industry. Within the group, you can share information and links, add comments, create discussions, and sometimes even post job openings, depending on the group. By engaging frequently in groups, you can increase your visibility and help boost your brand.

5. Answer Questions – Share your expertise and help other LinkedIn users out with the LinkedIn Answers feature. You can also ask a question and get quick answers from your network and other experts. By providing excellent answers, you can be selected as an expert in that topic, enhancing your business credibility online.

6. Share Unique Content in Status Updates – When you log in to LinkedIn, you may notice a stream of status updates from across your network on your Home page. You can use that stream to share content and information with everyone you’re connected to on LinkedIn. Try sharing announcements, articles, blog posts, or even specials and deals that may be relevant to your LinkedIn network with this feature to promote your business on the site.

7. Share Your Twitter Updates – You can connect your LinkedIn account with your business’s Twitter account and select to either share all tweets on your LinkedIn Status or share selected tweets with the hashtag #in to automatically share relevant business information on your LinkedIn status.

8. Write Recommendations – Featured on each user’s profile page, recommendations are personal testimonials users can write for each other. Writing recommendations is a great way to say thank you to trusted business contacts and partners you have worked with. And, since your name and title appear on recommendations you write, this has the added value of promoting your business, too.

9. Ask for Recommendations – Since recommendations on your LinkedIn profile can act like personal testimonials, it’s a good idea to ask trusted colleagues, peers, mentors, or even satisfied customers to leave a recommendation on your profile. There’s even an option to request a recommendation using LinkedIn. Learn more about how to ask for a recommendation.

10. Research Vendors and Contacts – If you want to learn more about a business contact, you can search for their profile on LinkedIn to find out business related information, such as their background, experience, and sometimes even interests based on the groups they’re in. This is a great tool to use to help create common ground and establish a relationship in real life.

11.  Create and Promote Events – When you hold an event for your business, you can promote that event using LinkedIn. This is an easy way to share information about your event with other business contacts who may want to attend or help spread the word.

12. Use Applications – There are a variety of applications you can add to LinkedIn, like Polls, Google Presentations, Slideshare, Blog Link, and Reading Lists. You can use them to get more out of LinkedIn, and some people even use tools like SlideShare to help generate business.

As a local business owner, there are a variety of ways you can use a personal LinkedIn profile to boost your visibility and promote your business. Try some of these tips to use your personal brand to help build your business web presence. And check back next week to learn more about using LinkedIn company profiles.

Do you use LinkedIn to promote your business online? Have you tried using the site to network with potential clients, customers, or vendors? Share your LinkedIn tips and thoughts in a comment!

Author: Tiffany Monhollon writes about social media, marketing, and local business success as the lead blogger for ReachCast, a service that helps local business owners develop their web presence.