When I saw Shannon Ehlers talking up small towns in Chris Brogan’s comment section, I had to reach out! This post is the result of our emails, and hopefully, the start of a great friendship.
Guest post by Shannon Ehlers
I use LinkedIn to expand my professional network beyond the town where I live and the narrowly defined industry where I work. This is very important when you live in a town of 1100 people and work in a field like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and dietary supplements. I am a natural products chemist, and I can safely say that there is not a single soul in my town who could answer many of my professional questions.
1. Pad Your Rolodex
This is where LinkedIn comes into play. LinkedIn is a web-based professional networking service (if you’re totally unfamiliar, then visit http://www.linkedin.com for more details). LinkedIn is popular as an “online resume” service, but it is also much more than that. I have a single guiding principle for my use of LinkedIn: everything I do there should build my network, either in quality or in quantity (better connections or more connections). Having a healthy professional network is also beneficial when looking for new investors, a new job or when starting a company.
Tip – Seek out people looking for expertise that you can provide. One of the best ways to do this is to answer questions in LinkedIn’s Questions and Answers. Once you have helped someone with their question, follow up with a direct message. This can be one of the most effective ways to build new relationships on LinkedIn. It also allows you to become rated as an expert on LinkedIn.
2. Gather Informational Nuggets
I use LinkedIn to do research and gather testimonials and quotes, which I then can use in presentations at work, as fodder for my blog, etc. I think of this as a virtual water cooler, where I can access the opinions of hundreds of my colleagues. A current project I’m working on has to do with the accessibility of food in small towns without grocery stores, a real issue for elderly people who can’t drive. As in the tip above, again I use the Questions and Answers feature of LinkedIn, but this time I am doing the asking. The best questions that I have found on LinkedIn can be answered in either concrete or abstract terms. This is the key to finding interesting and memorable answers that will make your presentation or post more effective. Also as in the above tip, I always follow up with the person whose answer I want to use and let them know I’ll be quoting them (more relationship building).
Tip – This sounds complicated, but it’s actually very simple. Put your question to this simple litmus test: try to answer it using Google. If you can exhaustively answer your question using Google, then maybe the LinkedIn network isn’t the best place to ask it (maybe Google is).
3. Re-establish Contact
I use LinkedIn to reconnect with friends and colleagues from college and past jobs. This is one of the most obvious uses of LinkedIn. I immediately found it useful, and I still use it daily. I usually get as many invites as I give, and it is always a pleasant little moment when I get to talk to someone I haven’t heard from in years. The really neat thing that makes me so glad to have it is that LinkedIn takes care of the small talk and pleasantries for you (you already know where your old friend is living, what they are doing, and maybe even some info about their family). This allows me to quickly have a meaningful conversation when we actually finally talk on the phone or via email or in person. If the reason for reconnecting is professional, then we often can move quickly to transactional mode, and if it is personal then often we can arrange for more direct conversations quickly. While not a “social” networking application in the truest sense, LinkedIn is very suitable for most of the connections I like to make.
Tip – It may seem obvious, but make your profile somewhat personal. Don’t be afraid to include some details that identify you as you. Believe it or not, there is likely someone else out there with the same name as you. I’ve run into several Shannon Ehlers impostors this way, so distinguishing myself in my profile assures that people contact the “real” Shannon Ehlers. Personalizing your profile (within reason – no need for incriminating details!) is also a great way to make yourself stand out from the herd, and entice people to want to meet you and make you a part of their own professional network.
4. Be Your Own Billboard
I use LinkedIn to maintain an online professional reputation which can then be used as a means to expand my network of contacts. Because of the excellent rankings that LinkedIn receives on Google, it is an extremely effective reputation management tool, acting as your own electronic billboard. Without professing to be a search engine optimization (SEO) expert, I can tell you that having a well crafted LinkedIn profile is an excellent way to make sure people find the info you most want them to find when they search for your name on Google.
Tip – A companion to your LinkedIn profile should be your own blog. If available, register your own name as your domain and then connect your LinkedIn profile to your blog (placing this in the About section is a good choice, or you can generate a button from LinkedIn that can be placed into the sidebar or footer of your blog as a widget, or shoot the moon and do both!). Likewise, be sure to list your blog URL in the “My Websites” section on your LinkedIn profile (it is amazing to me how many people don’t do this).
5. Capitalize on Affinity Groups
Using LinkedIn Groups is an exceptional way to find like-minded people or, if no group exists for people like you, then you have the chance to start your own group and build something new that will serve others who share your interests. Common backgrounds, a common employer, a geographical area, or a social club – all offer reasons to connect with other people who you may not have otherwise met.
Tip – At the time of writing, the Group Directory feature on LinkedIn wasn’t working. I think they are working on this, but have no idea when it will be functional. In the meantime, I have found that scanning the profiles of people I know and respect can reveal groups I’d like to join. Once you’ve joined a group, be sure to take a few minutes to view the members. See if anyone you already know is there – you’ll be surprised how often they are, so be sure to connect with them if you haven’t already. Don’t forget the people you haven’t met yet. For obvious reasons, these group members make excellent people to address with your Q&A from 1 & 2 above.
I hope that you have found this post useful. My thanks to Becky McCray for sharing her audience and allowing me the opportunity to write in this space. In reality, most of these will apply as well for people who don’t live in small towns or work in small businesses. However, we who do face the “isolation” challenge really need tools like this. Be sure to let me know in the comments other ways that you use LinkedIn.
Shannon Ehlers works by day as a research chemist. By night, he runs The Midnight Blogger at http://shannonehlers.com where he advocates for small town life and shares personal interests and insights.
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.