While nothing beats getting to know people face-to-face when it comes to building strong, enduring business relationships, the Internet offers wonderful opportunities for expanding and maintaining your professional network. Take LinkedIn, for example. With around 150 million members in more than 200 countries and territories, it’s the largest business network on the Internet today. If you are new to online networking, this is the first place I recommend you consider joining.
What is LinkedIn?
Remember Rolodexes? LinkedIn allows you to create something like a Rolodex on steroids, and then flip through all of your contacts’ Rolodexes, too. This allows you to see who you and your contacts are mutually acquainted with, ask for introductions to people you would like to get to know, learn more about your coworkers, and check out prospective employees.
How do I join LinkedIn, and what do I do next?
1. Go to LinkedIn.com and answer a few questions. Basic membership is free of charge and meets the needs of most users.
2. Create your profile. It should contain more information than your business card, but less than your official resume.
3. Send invitations to connect with people you already know who use LinkedIn. LinkedIn can provide suggestions based on your email address books, companies you’ve worked for, and schools you’ve attended.
4. Continue expanding your LinkedIn network by sending invitations to every new business contact you make.
What else should I know about online networking?
First, you should always be as courteous when networking online as you would be in person. Take a genuine interest in the people you communicate with – don’t just pump them for information that could benefit you. Help others out whenever you can. Establish mutual trust with a contact before asking them for a favor. In essence, seek to give more than you get.
Second, the opportunities for leveraging LinkedIn to build business relationships reach far beyond what I’ve discussed here.
If you are new to LinkedIn, I encourage you to guard yourself from becoming overwhelmed by focusing your efforts on mastering the networking techniques mentioned in this column.
Christy Correll is the online marketing specialist at Lightning Labels, where sales are driven primarily through eCommerce activities.