I have been a user of the online business community, LinkedIn, for a couple of years now. Yet it is only recently that I have started to discover the power of a networking site for business users that is truly global.
For one of my clients, I generate business from international clients looking to launch technology products into the US. Now where do you find a group of those guys hanging around? As I mentioned previously, the web has become a collection of “coffee shop” communities. So I thought I would try my own theory out and utilize a powerful tool that I am already using to find this particular coffee shop.
With the recent re-design of LinkedIn, groups became a much more prominent part of the community. In the past, it was almost as if the powers that be at LinkedIn wanted to obscure the groups from view so that nobody would find them. However, with the power of groups, you now have a group of people who self select as those interested in a certain topic (i.e. Mac Users, Friends of Italy, French Consulting Group, you-name-it). Granted, you have the (what I fondly refer to as) “link whores” who are in this prize-less contest to see who dies with the most contacts in LinkedIn. They tend to join every group imaginable and link to anyone and their hamster. However, linking with them can give you good exposure as well.
However, these groups are an excellent way to meet and greet. It gives you an excuse to drop someone a line (i.e. “I saw you were on the Friends of Italy group and was wondering what type of business you have in Italy”).
One of the biggest advantages to using LinkedIn to contact people, however, is the amount of information available to the person you are contacting about you. Before responding to your message, they can look at your work history, your education, your list of recommendations from other users what groups you are involved in, and what your list of hobbies are. They can even see what you look like. I have found it to be a much more effective way of contacting someone than just a standard e-mail.
Heck, I will even browse the local network in Boise and find people in targeted organizations who have backgrounds that interest me and invite them to meet for lunch or coffee (OJ for me). I have never once been turned down.
There is a constant debate raging over who will win out in the end. Will it be Facebook, LinkedIn, OpenSocial, or even some upstart business community. Even Plaxo has made a resurgence. However, I have discovered it is all in how you use these tools to meet your networking needs. LinkeIn is a powerful tool for networking with business people all over the world. I now have business contacts in distant places with which I have begun to build relationships. I also have business contacts right here in my own backyard that I had never met before. If you are not LinkedIn, I would highly recommend it. If nothing else, it is great for your search engine optimization.
H ow have you used LinkedIn to further your business?