LinkedIn. It's social networking for professionals. So, think MySpace and swap out thongs for resumes and there you have it. It has been an indespensible tool for me to find the right person in the right places to connect to, and reach them through a trusted contact that can recommend me.
Like offline networking, it's value is maximized when you keep up with it, b/c connections are a funny thing. You never know when someone is connected to someone that might come in handy.
This is a continuation of other "Getting Into... " posts... see:
Here are our goals: You want to make sure that everyone, or as many people as possible, who are familiar with you and who already use LinkedIn productively, are connected to you. Why? Because when you really need a connection to a certain ad agency, its more likely you'll find it closer when you have 350 contacts than if you have 2.
Plus, you want to make yourself easily findable, so that when people are looking for what you can offer, they can reach you easily and you sound impressive.
So, here goes:
1) Organize and cleanup your contacts first. LinkedIn is most effective when you use it in conjunction with a real online address book and email system. For most, that means Outlook, which can be big and bulky but is also very powerful and has a well integrated email and address book solution. Many students still use their phone for numbers, their AOL, Gmail, or Yahoo! addressbook for emails and Facebook fills in the gaps. Well, grow up. Seriously. Think about how much of an information advantage someone has with a hosted addressbook with names, companies, emails, numbers, and notes all in one place, and who can access that from the web or on their phone.
2) Once you've got that all settled, install the LinkedIn toolbar for Outlook or just export and upload your contacts via *csv file to LinkedIn. This will allow LinkedIn to trudge through your contacts and emails and find out who you know is already on the system. These people are no brainer invites. You know them and you don't need to explain to them the value of joining. If you want to invite newbies, that's your own uphill battle if you choose to climb it.
3) After you upload your contacts, LinkedIn will tell you how many people you know and talk to are already on the system and give you a link to invite them to connect. Create custom invites!! I hate hate hate the stock invite and you should never use it. You want something that reflects who you are and sticks in someone's mind... maybe something that will cause even more
For example, here is what I use:
As [insert timely pop culture reference here... spring training, celebrity weddings, etc] happen, , I'm using LinkedIn to keep in touch with my professional networ just in case I don't make the Mets major league roster.. Because you're a PERSON, I'm going to take two seconds to write a mildly creative and entertaining invitation, even though you know what this whole thing is about and any text is probably unnecessary.
So link to me, and then I'll troll your network for opportunities, contacts, dates, etc... all the while getting your permission at every step. Pretty soon, your network will realize that I'm a far more interesting person than you are, and one by one, they'll probably unlink you. You'll wind up alone in a bar somewhere, and probably wind up in a fight. Several haymakers and a black eye later, you'll wonder where all your friends went and you'll only have yourself, Reid Hoffman, Sequoia and Greylock to blame. :)
Of course, I'm joking...
Obviously, you can't blame the VC's.
Is this good for everyone? No way! Why? Because, one, it is a little bit snarky. For me, that's ok, but for a salesperson or a student or just someone who might have to present a slightly more professional face than a t-shirt and jeans product manager, you might want to rethink that, unless you know the person you're inviting can take a joke. Second, there's a lot of inside joking here. Most people don't know who any of the people are that I mentioned... except people in online media and technology. Figure out what works for you. For me, I don't think I've ever had anyone turn me down b/c I only invite people I actually know who already use the system plus I create this funny invite.
Make sure you update this regularly. If you use Firefox, install the LinkedIn plugin. I use it all the time... searching for people's names instead of through the Google searchbox. Redo the e-mail process every few months.
4) Live your profile. Make sure your bio is up to date and well written. Describe not only what you have done, but what you would like to do. Make sure you use keywords that would likely be used in the kind of searches that you want to be found with. Personalize the page by adding a LinkedIn screename for public profiles and stick it at the bottom of your e-mail signature. Use the blog badge. Put it on business cards. You want others that you encounter knowing that you have it.
5) If people don't accept your invite, do not pester them. They'll come around... or maybe they just don't like you, which is their right.
6) Ask for introductions sparingly. Some people join LinkedIn and two minutes after using it, I already have 6 requests to get introduced to people in my network. WHOA, Nelly! Calm down. I try not to ask people for introductions to people for at least a good month after we get connected... and usually after having at least one other non-LinkedIn related conversation. Plus, don't keep asking the same people. If you have 5 connections, all of whom have one contact except for one with 553, don't keep pestering that one person... get more friends.
7) Recommendations... no one ever really uses them, but you can score about a million brownie points... ermm... I mean social capital dollars, with someone by writing them sincerely and where appropriate. Many people don't even know they exist, and then when you randomly write something nice about them, they're floored. Admittedly, I don't do this enough, but the few times I've had, it really made the other person feel great and strengthened our connection.
So, there's LinkedIn 101 in a nutshell. I have 380+ contacts and, in my industry, there usually isn't a department or person I can't find some way to get into. I don't know where else you'd get that kind of penetration through the corporate viel... used wisely, its an indespensible tool.