My approach to LinkedIn was just like everyone else’s. Quickly create a profile and then build a network, starting with friends and co-workers.

My goal was to reach the prestigious 500-person contact list. Anyone who’s anyone on LinkedIn has at least 500 contacts. But then what?

I saw no change in my business, and my friends preferred Facebook over LinkedIn. I realized that all my efforts in finding 500 business associates had been a colossal waste of time.

But once you learn how and why to use LinkedIn you will quickly realize that it surpasses all other social media platforms in the networking category. Recent statistics are staggering:

  • There are over 433 million LinkedIn users.
  • Two new people sign up every second.
  • Members account for 106 million unique visits.
  • LinkedIn boasts that more than 80% of business leads are generated there. All other platforms combined make up the remaining 20%.
  • 77% of users research people and/or companies before making contact.

Your contact list, no matter how big or how small, can generate the business you want, if you use the platform properly. The prospects are there, you just have to figure out how to reach them.

The first step is to make sure that your profile presents well and that you appear to be a professional business person, because first impressions truly are important. The better the profile, the better the chances of you being seen and taken seriously.

We have compiled all the important elements of a powerful LinkedIn profile with suggestions on how to implement each.

Here are the exact steps to follow.

1. Create a compelling headline.

Use action words and descriptive language that will immediately grab the attention of the reader. But be careful not to become so eloquent that everyone except Mensa-level scholars will be able to understand you.

2. Use a professional picture.

Wear appropriate clothing and go with a head and shoulders shot. Smile. If it’s too early in your career to hire a photographer, find someone who takes good pictures. Stay away from selfies, because they look like selfies. Research shows that profile pictures result in a 40% InMail response rate (more on InMail later) and increase your chances of getting viewed by up to 11 times.

3. Add a background photo.

This one is challenging, but important. A strong background picture will add 1,000 words to your profile (if indeed, a picture is worth 1,000 words). It should explain further who you are and where your passions lie. It should be business related, with a personal flair, if possible. A group shot shows action, involvement and teamwork. Working a trade show or volunteering at a community event are also terrific images displaying your work ethic and commitment.

4. Provide complete contact information.

It’s amazing how often someone views a profile, wants to connect with that individual, and then can’t figure out how to find them. This is one place where there’s no such thing as too much information. List your name, business and cell phone numbers, Twitter handle, website address and any other safe method of contacting you that you can think of. If you [make it easy], they will come [forward], to paraphrase a line from an inspiring movie.

5. Craft a short, eye-catching headline.

This is the one or two line description under your name. Think of it as a headline from your favourite newspaper or magazine. It needs to grab the viewer’s attention and draw them further into the profile. It is a pint-sized sales pitch that offers a benefit. This is where you need to be creative. Don’t describe yourself as the “Owner at ABC Painting”, but say something like “Making Your Walls Come Alive, at ABC Painting”.

6. Tell your story.

This section is called the Summary, where you get to talk about yourself. And every word counts. You want to highlight your skills, knowledge and experience and then explain how they can benefit your potential customer. Speaking in first person will make your story more intimate and personal. Some LinkedIn members like to profile themselves in third person, from someone else’s perspective, which ends up sounding like someone else wrote it. But whatever format you choose, tell the truth, try not to embellish too much and remember that bragging is not professional.

7. Customize your profile. 

LinkedIn allows you to make your profile more professional and easier to share. Most LinkedIn members don’t bother with this significant step, so taking a few minutes to enhance your profile will set you apart from the pack. Learn how to customize your profile here.

8. Optimize your profile with key words, blogs and regular updates.

If you want people outside your network to notice you, diligently practice search engine optimization. Use keywords liberally, especially in your summary. Write blogs and publish them on LinkedIn. Update your profile by routinely adding new skills, joining associations and finding new ways to improve your profile overall. LinkedIn is your friend, and provides all the tools you need to make you stand out in the marketplace.

9. Focus on your skills.

Know your strengths and then tell the world. LinkedIn allows you to list up to 50 of your best attributes specifically related to your career. Start by determining your top ten and listing them on your profile. By adding skills, your profile has 13 times more chances of being viewed. Then ask your contacts to endorse you. Be bold, but be nice. Endorsements have a way of perpetuating themselves. Unbelievingly, ten million endorsements are shared every day on LinkedIn.

10. Write recommendations.

If you are connected to someone who exhibits special skills or exemplary customer service (and you will be) write a recommendation they can post on their personal profile. Your recognition of their efforts will make their day, enhance their profile, spread your name around and, hopefully, earn you a recommendation in return. Quid pro quo.

11. Publicize your projects.

LinkedIn offers many sections you can add to your profile. “Projects” is one of the best. It shows how you have used your skills on a specific task, the experience you gained as a result, and the team you worked with. You can also link each job to alternate websites, providing even more information.

12. Post publications.

If you’ve written anything noteworthy, or someone has written something about you, be sure to include it in your profile. It doesn’t always have to relate specifically to your career. An article about you volunteering at a local event, for example, will definitely enhance your stature as an involved, community-minded person. This is not the time to be shy or humble.

13. Join groups.

All those logos at the bottom of your profile dramatically show your interests and causes. Not only those groups related to your career, but also organizations reflecting your interests, hobbies and more. A word of warning though; follow the groups you join. It would be embarrassing if a potential employer or client asked you about your involvement with their favorite association, which they saw in your group, and you didn’t know what they were talking about. You can join up to 50 LinkedIn groups. Only 16% of LinkedIn members have joined the maximum number.

14. Mention any honors and awards.

Maybe not your Grade 4 spelling bee championship but you have received a few accolades in your day, right? Industry-related recognition is important, but don’t disregard sports, community or educational honors as well. You’re not bragging, you’re simply reporting.

15. Share your interests.

You don’t need to go into great detail, but sharing your passions not only humanizes you but gives you a starting point with someone of similar interests. They can be a great ice breaker. Your pastimes also make excellent SEO keywords when people are searching for specific characteristics or interests.

16. Showcase your volunteer experiences.

Giving back to others is a strong characteristic of a good person. In fact, LinkedIn says that 42% of hiring managers surveyed said that volunteer experience is as important as work experience. And one in five has hired someone based on their volunteer experience.

17. Check in regularly.

For LinkedIn to be an effective business tool, it must be used consistently. Only 40% of LinkedIn users check the site every day. Make a habit of endorsing or recommending your contacts. Look for new connections. These can all be done easily, anytime you have a few extra minutes in your day. But to really get noticed, you need to post articles. Sharing is good, writing is better. Regular posting gets you recognition, views and engagement. In fact, to reach 60% of your LinkedIn connections, you need to post at least 20 times each month. That’s a major commitment.

Instead of viewing LinkedIn as a time-wasting, energy-draining social media tool, you can see that it would be invaluable in growing your business if done right.

On the other hand LinkedIn is a social network, which involves social intercommunication. Even though you cannot see the person you are connecting with, you should still treat them as if you’re sitting across the table from each other. With courtesy and respect. You can spend all that time creating a magnificent profile and then invalidate all your efforts by making these mistakes below.

These are 7 blunders performed by LinkedIn members, often unintentionally.

1. Not responding to emails or InMail.

You will occasionally receive unsolicited, hard-sell sales messages from strangers. Yes, it’s okay to ignore them. But there are times when someone in your network will send you a message or request. Professional courtesy dictates that you respond quickly. It doesn’t hurt to have a standard response prepared so that you don’t have to spend a lot of time answering.

2. Ignoring an invitation email from a LinkedIn member wanting to join your network.

You should not connect with anyone without first checking their credentials but if they appear to be a good fit, accept their request. If they look like a charlatan, don’t feel bad about ignoring them. But it’s those people in the middle who are tough to neglect. Perhaps they are just establishing their LinkedIn network with few contacts and a terrible profile. It wouldn’t hurt to send a note to the person you’re connected through and explaining that you will consider the request if the new member develops a stronger profile.

3. Overlooking endorsements or recommendations.

When someone in your network recognizes one or more of your skills and endorses you, take the time to send them a short thank you. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just a simple acknowledgement that you received the endorsement. It’s also a great way to stay connected. Acknowledging recommendations however, is essential. When someone takes the time and effort to sing your praises, the least you can do is thank them. I feel that recommending them is better, if they are deserving.

4. Shamelessly selling your product or service in your initial contact.

You’ve probably received one of these carnival-barking sales messages from someone you have not established a relationship with. You researched their profile and accepted their invitation and, the next thing you know, their sales message is taking up all your screen space. It’s a bold move that alienates potential customers. Don’t do it.

5. Mixing politics or religion with business.

Never forget that LinkedIn is a business network. It’s not the place to share your views on political parties or world religions. By doing so, you will lose half your audience, perhaps more.

6. Liking or sharing inappropriate content.  

We all have our favourite vices. Most are harmless, but whenever you like, share or comment on a LinkedIn article, all your connections have access. What you like provides insight into what kind of person you are.

7. What’s in it for me? This is a legitimate question, because LinkedIn is all about you.

It provides a formidable opportunity for you to present your talents and experience, to a worldwide audience. No other media platform comes close. But to benefit the most from your profile, develop online relationships. Look for ways to help others in your network. Perhaps you can introduce them to a contact that will give both parties a win-win. In fact, because you nurtured the relationship, it is actually a win-win-win.

As you start to implement the suggestions listed here and avoiding the mistakes, you will find that your LinkedIn social standing progresses favorably. Slowly but surely.

When you become more comfortable using LinkedIn on a regular basis you will find that your contact list will increased dramatically. You will also learn to connect with quality people, where both sides can benefit.

So now that you’ve had a chance to look at all the benefits of a LinkedIn account, are you convinced that it will work for you? Start small so you don’t become overwhelmed. Return to your profile regularly and keep adding new information. Join some groups. Then start liking other people’s posts. Soon you will be writing your own.

And as you discover all the benefits of your LinkedIn account, you may develop some tips that are worthy of sharing. I’d love to hear them.

Jason Gordon, Founder – Strong Social