LinkedIn was launched way back in 2003 and is promoted as 'the place where professionals stay connected'.
A basic account with LinkedIn is free, with additional features available to paid subscribers.
As with other networking sites like Facebook, users set up a free account and put together an online profile, only with LinkedIn these profiles look more like resumes and CV's. While some social networking sites produce lists of movies, music, bands and favourite quotes, as evidence of a person's persona, LinkedIn emphasizes professional affiliations, work experiences and job titles as its primary themes.
This networking site provides a huge array of services, but you will not need to use every last one to reap the benefits of having a LinkedIn account. In fact, LinkedIn can be very low maintenance, which can be a huge benefit to busy professionals.
For users who aren't actively seeking work or clients, logging in just once a month can pay off with huge results.
To set up a basic account LinkedIn requires little more than an email address and a password to get you started - although there's no benefit in using the service if you don't also fill in your profile.
The profile is very similar to a resume, with a summary section and job history prominently displayed. LinkedIn prompts you to upload other information about yourself, including a photograph.
Until your profile is completely filled in, the site will remind you periodically to complete the process - and it's mutually useful that it does. Users will get more out of LinkedIn when their profiles are complete. And the more user data the site has, the better an experience it can deliver.
The next step is to connect to people you know. You can find them by importing names and addresses from an email program. Most of the big webmail services are supported, but to grab contacts from Outlook, Apple Mail, and other desktop email clients, you need to first create a .csv, .txt, or .vcf file and then upload it to LinkedIn.
As you connect with co-workers, friends, business partners, etc., LinkedIn will begin to suggest people you may know based on shared relationship and company affiliations. The suggestions are unobtrusive and easy to accept or hide with one click of the mouse.
Although you can use LinkedIn to find people profiles which are related to a business or service, most people will use it to find jobs, or if you are a recruiter to find candidates for jobs.
If you have a big network and a lot of contacts which are connected to your LinkedIn network, you'll end up higher in the ranking of searches.
Naturally heavy LinkedIn networkers are using every trick in the book in order to increase their number of contacts and to give each other recommendations to end up high in the rankings.
Quality is therefore very relative on LinkedIn, especially since you cannot communicate directly with one-another. It only has email options, no instant messaging or Skype integration. You really have to know where to look and what to do in order to be effective.
The new LinkedIn Answers service lets you ask a question to your network who can then give you an 'Answer'. It is published for everyone to see, so it does has a great positive effect on quality on the network by adding a lot of useful information.
Answers are also rated as 'good' or 'best'. But sadly you just need one 'best' Answer to get to the Leader board, where the quantity counts again; the more Answers you give, the higher you get on the Leader board. LinkedIn are still tweaking this service and will undoubtedly improve it over time.
This new feature makes LinkedIn a bit more business friendly because it lets you express yourself to your personal network. Also it does the same the other way around, making it possible to select certain communication styles amongst your network and targeting that effectively. This is definitely a first step toward a real business use of LinkedIn.
Tip: If you have a big network and a lot of contacts which are connected to your LinkedIn network, you'll end up higher in the ranking of searches.
LinkedIn is taking the first steps towards a more quality oriented network with 'Answers'. LinkedIn networkers are now openly asking 'how can we make real business use out of it, make money with it?'
Somewhere in the near future LinkedIn will have to address that need, because serious competition is just around the corner and could give networkers a real alternative.
Despite some drawbacks LinkedIn is one of the best and well known portals for job seekers and recruiters. But now it is slowly becoming a worthy addition to the social armoury of all online businesses.
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