What is LinkedIn?

LinkedIn is one of the longest-standing social networks and is the one specifically focused on business and professional networking. The network has over 467 million registered users in over 200 countries around the world. More than half of the network’s members are located outside the United States, and the site is available in 24 languages.

As a professional, you can set up a LinkedIn Profile that is based around 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 also follow businesses or organizations and join LinkedIn Groups, similar to Facebook Groups in terms of discussion and moderation tools.

If you pay for a premium account, you get access to more robust networking tools depending on the package you purchase. LinkedIn offers specific accounts and tools for job seekers, salespeople, and recruiters as well as Business Plus and Executive accounts for more enterprise solutions, which include LinkedIn Learning with on-demand courses and educational resources.

Your Connections are at the core of LinkedIn, and cultivating your Connections thoughtfully will help you reap the most benefits out of the network. LinkedIn operates on the theory of “six degrees of separation,” the idea that any person you want to meet is less than six people away from you.

When you add Connections, LinkedIn calculates people who are one to three degrees away from you. Your 1st Connections are your closest ones. Someone who is connected to your 1st Connections is considered 2nd Connections and someone who is connected to your 2nd Connections but not directly connected to you, are your 3rd Connections. If a person is not within three degrees of you, they are listed as “out of your network.”

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.

To use LinkedIn’s built-in referral system, send a request to your 1st degree Connection and ask them to pass along your message and contact information to their Connection or to someone else via their Connection. The number of people between you and the person you want to meet depends on how many degrees of separation exist between you and that person. If your contact feels comfortable passing along your information, then their Connection will see all the messages, including the one you composed to your Connection and the one you composed to the person you are trying to meet.

At any step of this communication chain, any party can decide not to pass along your information and message so it is possible that your message could end up undelivered. 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, they are much more likely to pass along your messages as you work to expand your network.

If you are looking to connect with a company or organization, you can type their name into the LinkedIn search box at the top of the site. If they have a LinkedIn Page, you can learn more about them including accessing a list of people on LinkedIn who may 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.

As a business owner, you can also build your own LinkedIn Page and connect your personal LinkedIn profile to it as can any member of your team. You can also join LinkedIn Groups for networking and information exchange between industry professionals, alumni, or others with relevant interests. Overall, LinkedIn offers powerful networking tools for anyone in business or looking to do business.