1) When you have significant news in your business - for instance, a big product launch or a joint venture - use LinkedIn to notify your contacts by way of a profile update. And in your accompanying email message to the network, say “I would love to catch up with you - want to make time for a phone call?" It's that keeping-up process that sparks conversations about opportunities both for you and your contacts. It's in these conversations (which could be done by email, although probably not as well) that ideas will arise about prospective clients, partnerships, and other revenue-generating projects.
2) Use LinkedIn to understand the relationships between people you know and people you want to know. For me, this is the heart of LinkedIn's value - the ability to see at a glance how people you don't know, but would like to, are connected to people who are closer to you. So when you find Mr. Lofty Dude in the LI network and realize that he used to work with your former admin assistant - a data point you almost certainly wouldn't have acquired on your own - you can reach out to the admin and get, not only an introduction, but some intelligence about Mr. Dude's current dealings, needs, and hot buttons.
3) Connect, by all means, with your former colleagues from every company that has ever employed you. There is something about old-workmate ties (unless you, er, aren't the sort that former teammates think of fondly) that can't be duplicated in most relationships of shorter duration. Seek out these old workmates, tell them what you're up to and who you're most interested in meeting, and offer to help them out as well. One good lead would be worth the price of LI membership - oh wait, it's free - or anyway worth the price of your time doing LI searching and connecting.
4) Let's say that you would dearly like to work with General Motors, but you can't find anyone at GM who seems especially suitable for contact as you search the LinkedIn database. No problem. Find a current GM vendor or customer in the functional area you're interested in, and reach out to him or her. Is there something of value that you could offer in exchange for the introduction you want? In an ideal world, your sterling qualities and dazzling personality should convince this new acquaintance that introducing her client to you is something of value all by itself. But don't bank on that. Offer to extend an invitation of your own, or design his or her new database, or something.
5) Use the LI database to understand more about your prospects. This is the beauty of LI - what other source will tell you where many or all of the senior execs of your prospect organizations used to work (given that only half a dozen of them have profiles on the company's website)? Let's say that you want to do some work for ABC Company. And lo and behold, half the ABC execs worked for PayPal back in the day and the other half worked for FedEx. Great intelligence! You see that they have a strong Notre Dame alum thing going on, and some connection to Stanford as well. Now you can use your FedEx and PayPal alum contacts, your Notre Dame folks and your Stanford fellows to help you get ‘over the wall. '
6) You wouldn't email a complete stranger, even if you obtained his business card (say, by stealing the win-a-free-lunch goldfish bowl of business cards at P. F. Chang's) to say “Hey, why not buy some stuff from me?" So please don't reach out to new LI contacts by saying “Maybe you could help me make a new-business contact. " I wouldn't recommend that. Instead, read this intended contact's profile. Let's say you are reaching out to me, who runs an online community. Two seconds of reading my profile would give you some ideas of things that might interest me. I guarantee that a typical working person could offer me something I'd be interested in. So, when you make your LI outreach, mention that thing that you could offer! Write “I would love to connect by phone, both because I'm interested in your relationship with [my most-desirable prospect company] and because I have great friends in the social networking community whom you should know. " Bingo.
7) Many people in the business community, especially avid networkers, have numerous connections that don't do any [short-term, revenue-generating] good for them personally but that could be invaluable to their new networking contacts. Think about these valuable contacts as you reach out to people whom you hope might help you. For instance, I know lots of headhunters who have great media contacts - contacts I would drool over - journalists who regularly call them up for insights on the job market. Unfortunately, apart from occasionally mentioning in her stories that Joe Recruiter says that the job market is looking up, the journalist can't do much for Joe - she isn't going to write a profile on him any time soon, for instance. But she might write a profile on someone that Joe has just met through LI. Of course, Joe wouldn't throw around her name carelessly - but he might say, “You know, I can't guarantee anything, but for your kindness today I'd be happy to introduce you to my friend, an editor at the San Jose Mercury News, who might be interested to talk with you. " Rock on.
8) When you spot a cluster of people on LI who all know one another and are all accomplished in the same arena, that's a really special thing. It means that a group of folks who perhaps worked together, or met online, or are part of a group together, represent a kind of mother lode of shared knowledge around a particular area - say, SEO or CRM or German opera. That's huge, because jointly, these folks may comprise the lion's share of the current thinking on the topic. You can reach out via LinkedIn to one of them, and say, “You know, I'm trying to get up to speed on the operas of Handel. Might I sent you an email message with some of my key questions, and ask whether you wouldn't mind sharing your thoughts with me and also forwarding my message to your friend Jack Sprat, who could undoubtedly add a valuable perspective?" With luck, in the case of an inquiry like this, you are able to repay these experts’ valuable time with a gift of some kind (perhaps tickets to the opera). But many such people would refuse any compensation at all. It makes a huge difference how you present your situation and how graciously you pose your request. So much depends on good manners, doesn't it?
9) LinkedIn in combination with Google News Alerts makes a great business tool. Let's say you are looking to talk to folks at Fidelity who work in one product area. Use LI to find a name (or two or three names) of people at Fidelity who seem relevant to your situation, and whom you'd like to reach. Set up a Google News Alert on Fidelity, and set one up with the target person's name (or a few names) so that you can learn when he or she has been quoted, is speaking on a panel, etc. This kind of intelligence will tell you what's currently on the plate of this person, the issues he or she cares about, etc. What's more flattering than an LI outreach message that says “I was so sorry to miss your speech at the Financial Muckety-Mucks Summit, but I was fortunate enough to read your thoughts on petro-dollars on Money.com and to catch your NPR interview last week. " Dang! Be diligent, but be careful that you don't sound like a business stalker.
10) Vendors like to reach out to former clients, and that's good, but it can be awkward when you haven't kept up and have no idea what the former client is now up to. But of course, if you've got the contact info, thanks (let's say) to Plaxo, you're going to use it! LinkedIn solves the problem. Presto, you can track what your former client has been doing since you last saw him - no awkwardness. On top of that, instead of an open-ended “let's catch up" message, you can say “Wow! You're at Fidelity! You know, I see that you've only been in the job a few months, so we should definitely talk. It so happens that I've become something of an expert on Fidelity lately. . . . . . " Now, that's power networking!
Liz Ryan is a former Fortune 500 HR leader, a workplace expert and the founder of the global online network WorldWIT (http://www.worldwit.org ). She writes the workplace column for Business Week online, her own Business Mom and Job Jungle blogs at http://www.worldwit.org/blogs.aspx , and speaks internationally on women in the workplace, work and life, and the post-millennial corporate lifestyle. Liz lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband and five children.