September 17, 2011, 8:44 AM — With 120 million users, LinkedIn has become for business professionals what Facebook has long been for everyday consumers. It's increasingly rare, in fact, to meet a professional contact who isn't on the site.
There's no doubt small business owners can gain a great deal simply by having a profile on LinkedIn as part of their social media strategy. There are many other ways to use the social network, however--some offering even greater rewards--but not everyone is aware of them.
I recently had a chance to speak with Nicole Williams, LinkedIn's Connection Director and a small business owner herself, for some ideas on smart ways SMBs can use the site. Here are five key suggestions.
1. Paint the Full Picture
One thing SMB owners often don't do when they create a business page on LinkedIn is to include their employment history or even their education, Williams told me. The result is that it looks like they started their business without any previous work experience.
Whatever business you're in, "you are a legitimate business owner by virtue of your past employment history," Williams advised. "You want to have as much of that history listed as possible."
Same goes for your educational background, which not only boosts your credentials but can also help you forge connections with potential business partners.
"It's one of those pieces of information that helps you connect with others," Williams said. "At the end of the day, we do business with people we like and that we have some connection with. You want to include as much detail as possible."
Listing skills is critical too, particularly for helping potential customers or clients find you on the site. Once again, it's well worth adding them even if they aren't directly relevant to your business simply for the fact that they help legitimize you, she said.
Just the other day, meanwhile, LinkedIn launched a new feature that lets users list their volunteer activities as well, offering yet another way for professionals to differentiate themselves.
"If I have five event planners who are equally skilled and talented and I see one who is involved with a cause I care about, it may just be that one piece of differentiating information" that leads to a hire, Williams said.
2. Create a Vanity URL