With more than 35 million people on the site, LinkedIn has become the social networking site for business professionals. It's a great tool for job hunters, of course, but in our research for a new book project, we've found that LinkedIn also provides a wealth of free information for anyone, no matter what they're seeking to accomplish.
For e-commerce sellers, LinkedIn provides a way to connect and share ideas with other professionals, research product ideas and trends and ask questions about any aspect of running your business.
If you haven't joined the site, now is the time to do so. There's no charge, so go for it. Once you've joined, begin by creating a profile. This is sort of an online résumé, but because it's Web-based, you'll include elements that you couldn't put on a standard résumé. For example, you can include hyperlinks to your Web store or eBay Store and include recommendations from key customers and vendors.
Your profile should be detailed and somewhat informal but not overly so. This isn't a community as informal as eBay, so be sure to keep business as your focus. With that in mind, it's perfectly OK to include a picture of yourselfas a matter of fact, your image is an important part of your profile. For a great example of a LinkedIn profile, see the one created by Krista Canfield, LinkedIn's manager of public relations.
The great thing about LinkedIn is that it makes networking so simple. One of LinkedIn's biggest boosters is Brandon Dupsky, managing director of the e-Commerce Merchants Trade Association (EMCTA).
One of the most valuable assets for your company is your network
"One of the most valuable assets for your company is your network," Dupsky explains. "LinkedIn is a great tool to quickly and easily help you build this network. This may be your support network of online retailers such as PESA [the Professional eBay Sellers Alliance], or even a network of product suppliers.
"What I like about LinkedIn is how easy it is to find people in the same industry, add people to your network and communicate with everyone," he adds. "After you setup your LinkedIn account, your network will begin to grow on its own."
Now there are people who will set out to build as large a network as they can, inviting folks and collecting names regardless of how well they know them. We don't advise this. The result will dilute the value of the network and waste your time and the time of the person you invite to connect with you.
Think of it this way: If you focus your network on people you actually know and can recommend, then the updates you make to your profile or the announcements you share in the "What Are You Working On?" section will be meaningful. But, if you pad your network with people only tangentially interested in your efforts, every time they add or change any aspect of their profiles, you're going to get notified that this has happened. Do you really want to track the movements of scores of virtual strangers every week? No, we didn't think so.
Build your professional network of other sellers, as well as vendors and other professionals crucial to your work. When you first start creating your network, LinkedIn gives you the chance to import contacts from your existing online address books (e.g., from Gmail, Outlook, AOL, etc.). Mine your e-mail address books and other sources (e.g., business cards) and send out invitations for people to join your LinkedIn network. That makes it simple to approach people who you know, would remember you and can actually speak with knowledge on your behalf. As with anything, it's best not to use the pre-filled form LinkedIn provides for extending invitations. Customize it, and remind the person of how you know each other if that seems like a good step.
Valuable resources for merchants
The Companies sectionwhich is still in betaalready provides a huge amount of useful information on more than 160,000 businesses. You'll find details about people who work for the companies, including recent hires and promotions, most common job titles held and cities with the greatest concentration of employees. What a great way to research a company you're thinking of doing business with.
It's important to give something back to the community, as well as use the resources you find there
The jewel in the crown, though, is LinkedIn's Answers section. What you can do there is limitless. Thinking of carrying a new product line? Wondering about drop shipping, setting up a Web store, finding international manufacturers or any of the other countless topics that make up your work life? You can pose your questions right on the site and some of the most knowledgeable people around will answer them within days, if not hours. You can also search through previously asked questions. Just go to the Advanced Answers Search Tab and try out some keywords relevant to what you're researching. Don't forget to answer questions and demonstrate your own expertise.
With LinkedIn, it's important to give something back to the community, as well as use the resources you find there. You'll want to go onto the site with an attitude that says, "What can I do to help you?" So be sure to answer questions. It helps the community to thrive. If you sell specialized itemsbe they Hummels, Roseville pottery or Golden Age comic booksyour answers will prove your expertise with your product line.
Certainly, your work on LinkedIn will differ from the efforts of a bona fide job hunter, but this powerful social network is a fabulous place to spread the word about your work, get hard and fast recommendations about your professional efforts and even find some long-lost friends, classmates or colleagues. The site is loaded with step-by-step help to make sure your profile is the best it can be. And to tell you the truth, it's lots of fun, too!