The Social Network That Gets Down to Business
Joanna Wiseberg began Red Scarf Equestrian, which makes stylish handbags and other luxury goods for horse lovers, two years ago, just as the economy plunged into recession.
Nevertheless, Ms. Wiseberg was soon meeting people who invited her to showcase her goods at elite places like the Cannes Film Festival, the Monaco Grand Prix and a luxury goods conference in China. Now, she said, Red Scarf Equestrian, based in Toronto, is poised to take off.
“My business is a niche within a niche, and I opened at the worst possible time,” Ms. Wiseberg said. “You try and push a ball uphill.”
Her tool was LinkedIn, the social network for business professionals that is often perceived as a workaday cousin to the social butterfly of Facebook. But as Ms. Wiseberg discovered, LinkedIn is actually more than just a place for job seekers to post a résumé. “I wouldn’t be here without LinkedIn,” she said.
For any company in the social networking business, it is not easy living in the shadow of Facebook and Twitter. With 500 million users connecting with friends, trading photos, videos and articles, or whiling the time away on social games, Facebook has pretty much locked up the field. For its part, Twitter has carved a solid niche for those interested in broadcasting their thoughts 140 characters at a time.
But with its unabashed utilitarian bent, LinkedIn has built a presence in social media. Anyone with a career, a business or ambitions to climb the corporate ladder can network with 75 million people who use it, in large part, to find jobs or to recruit candidates for jobs.
But in the last year or so, LinkedIn has been offering plenty of information and tools that can help its users, whether they work for themselves or at a company, to conduct research, find new customers and expand their business contacts and prospects. Much of it remains free, though some advanced features require a subscription of $25, $50 or $100.
For the LinkedIn novice, the first step is to create a profile, which is much like putting together a résumé listing education, professional experience and skills. But the online profile is different from a printed résumé.
For example, putting more content, rather than less, will make your profile more likely to come up in searches. That means listing not just major positions you’ve had, but also minor internships and summer jobs. And it means listing all the skills you have. Change the privacy settings to be as open as possible; if you are looking for work, you want strangers to find you.
Next, it is good to have other people vouch for you. You ask people you know to write brief recommendations that also appear in your profile. A little logrolling never hurts. Recommend people you know as they may be more inclined to return the favor.
Then network as if LinkedIn were a big industry trade show. Search for people you know and invite them to be part of your network. Regular users of LinkedIn say a common mistake that newcomers make is to limit their network. So how many is enough?
There are no absolutes, but Krista Canfield, a LinkedIn spokeswoman, says that 35 connections appears to be the minimum to make the viral properties of social networks truly useful. (As in any network, you don’t want to include people who could drag down your reputation. LinkedIn lets you deflect unwanted invitations with the Archive button so no one knows they have been rejected by you.)