LinkedIn is very different from Facebook and similar social networking sites. LinkedIn is designed for business people to share professional contacts; there is limited personal information and no photos (other than a headshot should you choose to post one). It works this way: You build a profile (essentially your resume) and then invite people into your online network. You use that online network to tap into the networks of the people you know. And best of all, it is completely free to join.

This site is typically used to find an “in” with a particular person or company. It is also helpful for background and intelligence gathering regarding executives and companies. But to really make LinkedIn work for you, you need to know and use some of the finer features, which are discussed below.

CREATING AND UPDATING YOUR PROFILE

Your LinkedIn profile is indexed by Google and other search engines, so maintaining a robust profile is key to raising your visibility and opening doors for networking opportunities. Familiarize yourself with the site’s “Accounts & Settings” options. Check to be sure that your “Public Profile” setting is at “Full View.” Making your profile private will keep it from being indexed by search engines, which means your profile will be invisible to any Internet and LinkedIn user, rendering your visibility and networking efforts useless.

Make sure your profile is detailed — one that not only summarizes your experience, but also your professional and community activities. A detailed profile leverages the power of LinkedIn. Ever wonder why LinkedIn features the “People you may know” on your LinkedIn homepage? It is because LinkedIn is matching the data on your profile to other LinkedIn users with similar data. Use the “Summary” section of your profile to highlight the types of clients with whom you work, the types of cases or matters you want to be referred, cases you are currently handling, past matters and the like. Additionally, including prior jobs, as well as college and high school information, helps LinkedIn users connect the dots with respect to things you may have in common. Avoid using the “Specialties” category, as this may violate attorney advertising rules. The better option is to put all your experience narrative under the “Summary” section of your profile.

Last, if you ever wondered how some people have added LinkedIn links to their Web site profiles, e-alerts, etc., the site provides buttons to use on your marketing material. Find the buttons under the “Accounts & Settings, Public Profile” option and click on the “customized button” link under the “Public Profile” heading.

YOUR NETWORK AND CONNECTIONS

The people in your LinkedIn network should be those with whom you have a real relationship, most notably, clients, referral sources and other business colleagues. Ideally, these people know you and can say great things about you if contacted offline without your knowledge. Further, they should be able to make an introduction if you need one. Once a link or connection is established, you can see your contacts’ connections and they can see yours. Be strategic in your efforts to link to people and when accepting invitations from others. Keep in mind that this is not a popularity contest. Those whom you do not want in your network would be direct competitors, anyone you don’t know very well and also (be careful about this) vendors who can use your connections for their own sales process.

FEATURES TO AVOID

When setting up LinkedIn, do not select the feature that allows it to send invitations to all of your Outlook contacts; there are probably a number of people you do not want to connect with for various reasons. And do not select the option to send an e-mail blast to everyone in your network inviting them to connect. Inviting people into your network is best done one-on-one, with personalized e-mails to each recipient.

WHAT ABOUT CLIENTS?

What about clients in your network? There are a lot of advantages, the biggest being that you have access to your clients’ LinkedIn contacts. However, connecting with clients opens the door to other individuals connecting with your clients through your network, and not necessarily with your knowledge. Clients who are arch rivals can also pose problems if they are in your LinkedIn network, so some attorneys opt to make their connections private.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Finally, recommendations are very useful to enhance your credibility and credentials. However, recommendations can create possible liabilities, including having perceived favorites among referral sources, clients or employees; and may present “independence” issues in client development situations, particularly when pursuing competitor companies. Additionally, be mindful that certain states prohibit the use of testimonials by lawyers. So carefully check the advertising and solicitation rules in your state(s) of practice. LinkedIn does let you edit recommendations (the individual will have to approve an initial recommendation submittal, as well as edits) and you can withdraw a recommendation at any time and LinkedIn will not notify the individual; it will just disappear from his or her profile. Bottom line, pick those you recommend and who you want to recommend you very carefully — they should be individuals you know and trust.

E-MAIL SETTINGS

The “e-Mail Notifications” controls under “Account & Settings” allows you to manage how you are contacted by LinkedIn users. The “Contact Settings” feature allows you to indicate what type of invitations you are seeking or not seeking. If you are inviting potential client or referral inquiries, make sure you have the “consulting offers,” “new ventures,” “business deals” and “expertise requests” boxes selected. When using LinkedIn to research individuals you would like to connect with or know, pay special attention to this feature. For example, general counsel often are not receptive to receiving invitations to connect, so you need to find another way, such as asking someone you know who is connected to that person to introduce you directly. The “Receiving Messages” feature allows you to control how people contact you, with what frequency and what types of messages you want to receive.

YOUR PRIVACY SETTINGS

If you are annoyed by the daily or weekly e-mails from LinkedIn telling you each time someone in your network updates his/her profile, you do have control as to how your updates are communicated. While you cannot turn off this function for people in your network, if you do not want to send an e-update every time you add or change something on your profile you can turn off this update feature. Go to “Accounts & Settings” and select “Profile and Status Update” under the “Privacy Settings” heading. Another handy tool is the “Profile View” control, which lets you select whether or not a LinkedIn user sees that you looked at their profile. If you are doing some intelligence gathering, you may want to be invisible to those you are checking out.

If you prefer not to share your connections with others you have invited into your network, you can turn off the connection view feature, under the “Connection Browse” option. While this may irk fellow LinkedIn users, it does protect client connections from being viewed by competitors and others trying to do business with those organizations and using your network to identify opportunities. Keep in mind that even though you may turn off the connection viewing feature, users of LinkedIn will still be able to see if you are a second or third connection to someone via the “How you are connected” window, so the networking value is not completely lost.

CONCLUSION

Bottom line, only you can decide how best to use LinkedIn for your networking and visibility goals. But as great as online networking can be in playing the “who knows who” game, it cannot take the place of “face time” activities, so integrating interpersonal interaction is essential for building and enhancing your name recognition, networking and client development efforts.

Nancy Roberts Linder, a member of Marketing the Law Firm Newsletter‘s Board of Editors, is the principal of Nancy Roberts Linder Consulting, a law firm business development and client relationship management consulting practice, located in suburban Chicago.