Five ways you should be using LinkedIn

Wall Street is excited about the LinkedIn IPO, and here are five reasons why you should be excited about LinkedIn as well.

LinkedIn.com went public today. The IPO started at $45 and shares are currently trading over $100 and climbing. It has been a long time since a tech IPO generated this much excitement, which leads to the inevitable question of "what is it?"

LinkedIn is a social networking site focused on business. It was launched in May of 2003 P.F.B. (pre-Facebook), and is mainly used as a means of professional networking. Instead of connecting with family or long lost high school friends like Facebook, you connect with co-workers you work with now, or colleagues you have worked with in the past. With more than 100 million registered users, LinkedIn can connect you with a valuable network of professional contacts.

Here are five ways that you should tap into the LinkedIn excitement, and take advantage of what LinkedIn has to offer:

1. Find a Job. LinkedIn is a favorite haunt of recruiters and headhunters. Career sites like Dice.com or Monster are nice too, but LinkedIn has the added element of networking. You can let potential employers know about your skills and background through your profile just like posting your resume on a job site, but it helps when you are a friend of a friend of the hiring manager and you can get a credible referral through your LinkedIn network.

2. Build Professional Relationships. Success or failure can often be measured by the size of your Rolodex. For the younger audience -- that is an old box that would sit on your desk holding the equivalent of index cards with contact information. Now we just call it your Outlook Contacts. LinkedIn provides a means for you to branch out and make new connections within your field, or your company, and to leverage the connections of your connections when necessary.

3. Conduct Research. As a journalist, LinkedIn can be a very valuable resource. The search tools provided in LinkedIn enable very granular searches for LinkedIn members that work for in a certain industry, or for a specific company -- or even members that used to work for a given company in case you want some dirt that current employees aren't at liberty to discuss. You can also research a company before you go into an interview, or accept a job with a new company, so you know what you're getting into.

4. Seek Advice. Long before there was a Quora, you could use LinkedIn Answers to pose a question to your entire LinkedIn network. Whether you are trying to decide between a MacBook Air or a Dell laptop, or you want recommendations for the best photo-editing app for an Android smartphone, you can turn to your network of business professionals for guidance.

5. Establish a Community. You can form a group on LinkedIn dedicated to a specific topic or industry. You can then invite others to join that group and foster a community to debate and discuss and learn from one another. It is also an opportunity to demonstrate your own knowledge and expertise by sharing what you know within the group.

Granted, you can accomplish many of these same things using Facebook -- I am connected with hundreds of colleagues through my Facebook social network. But, LinkedIn lets you focus on professional business relationships without getting distracted by Farmville or Mafia Wars, and LinkedIn has a rich set of tools designed specifically to help members farm the network for valuable information.

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Tony Bradley

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