Amidst all the hype and media coverage of Facebook’s recent IPO and the rise of Pinterest, there is one powerful social network that you are probably a member of and not even using it to its full extent – LinkedIn. At 150 million users worldwide and growing, LinkedIn is the largest professional network online and is more than 12 times the size of Pinterest. LinkedIn packs a wallop for those interested in new business development, competitive analysis, research, and professional networking.

But according to LinkedIn’s co-founder Reid Hoffman, many of its users are not using it to its full potential. In a recent Wired Magazine profile “For LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman, Relationships Rule the World,” Hoffman said:

“They think it’s a place they keep their CV online and maybe have some connections with people they know professionally. They don’t think of it as a place to get business intelligence, to research problems, to establish an online presence where other people in the network can find them. It’s as if we’re a screwdriver in a world where people don’t quite understand screws.”

If the above description sounds like you, below are some tips to employ to better utilize LinkedIn.

1. Complete your LinkedIn profile and upload a professional image. Make sure to fill out your profile completely and also add a professional picture of yourself. Don’t forget to create a clear and concise headline in 120 characters or less describing what you do. According to LinkedIn, a completed profile provides you a 40% greater chance to be successful at networking. A complete profile makes it easier for potential partners, customers, prospects, and prospective employers to find you.

2. Take the time to customize your LinkedIn URL. LinkedIn assigns each profile a URL with a bunch of seemingly random characters in it. To get a clean URL, simply customize it for your public profile which will help Google bring you up more quickly in a search. Go to “Profile” page and then select “Edit” next to “Public Profile.” Select the URL you want.

3. Make sure to take advantage of applications available on LinkedIn including Slideshare, Reading List by Amazon, My Travel and Events, and Wordpress. If you have a professional slideshow that showcases your company, products or services, make sure to add the Slideshare plug-in. By sharing the books you like to read you may also provoke conversation with your connections. Everyone likes a book recommendation. Similarly, the Wordpress plug-in is another powerful tool to showcase to your connections what you are blogging about.

4. Ask for and add professional recommendations. On LinkedIn the recommendations you receive really set you apart from others and make you appear more credible. And the easiest way to ask for a recommendation of a customer, partner, or employer is by first writing one for them. Once you have three recommendations, LinkedIn considers your profile complete.

5. Add your connections. Often, people begin their profile and stop before completing it. Nothing looks worse to someone who comes across your name and sees the bare minimum. In addition, they also see that you have no connections. Take the time to make sure everything about your LinkedIn online presence is professional. To simplify adding connections, you can select “Add Connections” and LinkedIn can send out invitations to those you correspond with through email or you can enter the email addresses of your contacts.

6. Join groups on LinkedIn. By joining industry groups on LinkedIn you can meet others in your field and potentially add them as contacts as well. Also see if your alumni group is there.

7. Include a link to your Twitter profile from your LinkedIn profile. If you are “tweeting” professionally make sure to let others know by “syncing” your Twitter feed to LinkedIn. However, if you send out tweets more than once a day, set up your tweets to appear only if you add the hashtag #li or #in. You can add your Twitter account under “Settings”, “Profile”, and “Manage Your Twitter Settings.”

8. Make use of your personal updates. Have something to share with your connections like news about your company or something you would like to promote to your connections? Add it to the update box along with a link. This is then automatically shared to all your connections. In the event a connection comments on your post or likes it, your post is then shared among their connections.

9. Make sure to create a LinkedIn “Business” page. The LinkedIn business page is a good way to publicize your business to your LinkedIn connections as well as to prospects. And after all, isn’t that why you joined LinkedIn in the first place?

Social network image courtesy of Shutterstock

AvatarTheresa Smith

Theresa Smith is a communications and media relations specialist with more than 15 years experience in developing and implementing the public relations strategies.