Yesterday I posted about the value and risks of Facebook.  Here I want to describe the uses and potential risks of LinkedIn.

LinkedIn, as most readers know, is a social media site for business professionals.  Launched in 2003, had 50 million users as of October 2009.  The growth recently has been staggering.  To quote the LinkedIn blog, “it took 477 days — almost a year and four months — to reach our first million members. Th[e latest] million took only 12 days.”  This really means that if someone is in business, they should have a profile on LinkedIn as part of their electronic presence.

What Is LinkedIn Good For?

* Interactive Rolodex.  I use LinkedIn principally as a huge Rolodex that talks back to me.  My LinkedIn connections do my work of keeping up on where they are, who recommends them, and what they are doing.  Before I catch up on the phone, by email, or face-to-face with one of these connections, I view their profile to see what they have been up to and who they’ve been connecting with.

* New-Relationship Tickler.  We’re all meeting new people every day in our professional lives.  LinkedIn provides me with a low-pressure way to keep the door open to building a relationship with someone I’ve just met.  By connecting on LinkedIn, I gain the ability to learn about their background and keep apprised of their activities. That way, I have a way of gathering data that permits me to understand how I can help them with what they are doing.

* Business Resume Plus.  LinkedIn permits people to recommend others for their work and capacities.  This feature allows the user to build a solid reputation on the web that supplements whatever might be squeezed into a bio or resume. No doubt, this can serve as a powerful supplement to other business development efforts.

* Business Generator.  LinkedIn can also generate business.  I have not used it for this purpose to date, except in the general sense of maintaining and increasing my network of connections.  I have, however, referred one connection to another using the service, which (because of the resume-on-steriods element described above) can be a powerful tool for gaining introduction to a target individual or company.

The Downsides of LinkedIn.

* Shillers.  Yes, there are many people who have turned to LinkedIn as a means of getting their personal word out to the world in the shrillest way possible.  Spam is spam is spam, whether it hits my inbox or splatters across my LinkedIn updates.  I handle this mostly by averting my eyes, although I tend to hold spam-like updates against those who push them on me and will not hesitate to eliminate a repeat offender from my connections.

* Putting a Best Foot Forward or Putting a Foot in It.  Like any other part of business presentation, a LinkedIn profile is a public reflection of you.  You will be as persuasive as your profile is.  All the ordinary rules of business presentation apply:  either your profile will be candid, honest, and professional, or it will disserve you and others.

* Maintenance.  If one has a LinkedIn profile (and I think most professionals should have one), the user must keep it up to date.  A profile that is incomplete really suggests a user who is negligent.  And a profile with very few connections does suggest someone who has limited life experiences.

If You Use LinkedIn.

There are a number of solid LinkedIn tip sheets available.  Guy Kawasaki’s recent post on small business owners’ use of LinkedIn is, as always, superb.  This post by Dan Schawbel is, likewise, a solid how-to for personal branding on LinkedIn.

Do you use LinkedIn?  How to you maximize its value?