What is LinkedIn?

LinkedIn is one of the longest-standing social networks and is specifically geared toward business and professional networking. The network has over 546 million registered users in over 200 countries around the world, 146 million residing in the United States.

As a professional, you can set up a LinkedIn Profile or “landing page” that is based on your resume. LinkedIn offers a basic, free version with limited tools you can use to connect with others. On LinkedIn, you have Connections versus “Friends.” You can follow businesses or organizations and join LinkedIn Groups that are similar to Facebook Groups with topic-specific, moderated discussion.

LinkedIn also offers Premium Subscriptions with more robust networking tools depending on the package you purchase. LinkedIn offers specific accounts and tools called Premium Business for “power users,” Sales Navigator Pro for lead generation and Recruiter Lite to find and recruit talent. Premium levels include LinkedIn Learning with on-demand courses and educational resources as well as business insights such as company growth and hiring trends.

Three Degrees of Separation

Your Connections are at the core of LinkedIn, and cultivating those Connections thoughtfully will help you reap the most benefits out of the network. LinkedIn plays on the concept of “six degrees of separation,” the idea that any person you want to meet is less than six people away from you. On LinkedIn, people on the network are ranked in terms of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree connections or “Out of Your Network.”

Your 1st Connections are your closest ones. Someone who is connected to your 1st Connections is considered a 2nd Connection and a person who is connected to your 2nd Connections but not directly connected to you is a 3rd Connection.

If you are interested in connecting with someone who is several degrees away from you, LinkedIn shows you which of your Connections either knows that person or knows someone who may know the person you'd like to meet. LinkedIn only reveals the names of your direct Connections and uses neutral and non-identifying words to designate anyone who is not your Connection. LinkedIn protects people's identities and contact information until a 1st degree connection is made.

Networking Through LinkedIn

To use LinkedIn’s built-in referral system to get an introduction to someone not directly connected to you, send a request to your 1st degree Connection and ask them to pass along your message and contact information to their Connection. If your contact feels comfortable passing along your information, then their Connection will see your messages and can decide whether or not to pass it along.

Being selective about whom you connect with on LinkedIn is important, so that your link to other people is stronger than if you connect with people who you don’t actually know. If you know or have met someone in a professional setting, they are much more likely to pass along your messages as you work to expand your network. You can also reach out directly to other LinkedIn users who you don’t know through LinkedIn’s InMail, however, you need a Premium Subscription to do this.

If you are looking to connect with a company or organization, type the name into the search box at the top of the LinkedIn site or mobile app. If they have a LinkedIn Page, you can learn more about them and access a list of people on LinkedIn who work for them. With that information, you’re able to see if you have any connections that know someone at the company for a warm introduction.

LinkedIn is also a useful tool to market your business. You can build a LinkedIn Page for your company, similar to a Facebook Page, and connect your personal LinkedIn profile to it as well as your team’s profiles. If you’re looking to network with others in your industry or with similar professional interests, join a LinkedIn Group or start one of your own. Overall, LinkedIn offers a variety of powerful networking tools for anyone in business or looking to do business.