LinkedIn is always the best research tool to find the right people, but it may not always be the best tool for communicating with them.

I confidently share this statement with most of my audiences, and here's why.

Most people have a LinkedIn profile by now, and we can find those pretty easily. But based on user statistics that LinkedIn used to share often (but haven't shared since their purchase by Microsoft) and also reports from others who track actual usage of social media sites, the majority of people who have profiles don't access the site monthly—yes, that's right, not even monthly.

Thus, you need to think about your options (on and off of LinkedIn) for taking the next step and communicating with someone in your target audience who has a LinkedIn profile. You'll need to decide which option is most appropriate for your situation and whether the person's profile tips you off to whether that person is on LinkedIn consistently (profile photo, number of connections, complete profile, posting information, etc.) or may not even remember his/her password.

LinkedIn communication options

Send a direct message. This option is available to you if you're already connected or if you're in a group with the person you want to contact. LinkedIn lets you send an unlimited number of direct messages to your current connections and 15 direct messages per month to fellow group members.

(Note: LinkedIn users can change their settings so no one can direct message them in the group, but it is not the default, so you can usually do this.)

To message a connection, just go to the person's profile and click the Message button.

To message a person within a group, click the Groups icon in your Work tab in the top toolbar, and then click My Groups and pick the group to which you both belong. Click # members, and enter the person’s name in the Find a member... box. When the person’s entry comes up, click the Message icon to the right of his/her name and type in your message.

Send an InMail. InMails are direct messages to people you're not connected to. This option is only available to premium LinkedIn members. When you're on the person's profile, simply click the More button (2nd degree) or the three dot icon (3rd degree), and then select InMail from the drop-down choices.

As a premium member, you get a specific number of InMails each month as part of your premium membership. You can purchase additional InMails at $10 each.

If someone responds to your InMail within 90 days, you get a credit from LinkedIn for another InMail. In other words, LinkedIn gives you credit for sending InMails to people who are more apt to respond. This helps control spamming.

LinkedIn power user tip: If you want to message someone who isn't one of your first-level connections, join one of the person's groups, and go through the steps outlined above. This will save you $10 or one of your allotted InMails.

Get introduced through a connection. This step not only enables you to have your first-level connection introduce you to your target but also gives your connection the opportunity to write something nice about you, your services, or the products you offer.

Although LinkedIn's official Introduction feature was eliminated several years ago, you can still forward to one of your first-level connections the profile of a person you're interested in getting introduced to. Simply go to your target's profile, click the More... icon, and select Share Profile. Then put your connection's name in the Type a name or multiple names... box and enter the details of your request in the message box, which now has been populated with a link to your target's profile.

Include your message in an invitation to connect. If the person is someone you want in your network, this is probably the best option, because if the person accepts your connection request, you can direct message him/her forever, assuming (s)he doesn't disconnect from you.

Because it's advantageous to customize your invitation, go to the person's profile. For 2nd degree LinkedIn members, click the big blue Connect button. For 3rd degree members, click the three dot button and choose Connect from the drop-down menu. If you don't see either of these options, the person may have changed his/her setting and will not accept invitations. Once you click Connect, select the Add a note button and craft your best 300 character invitation to that person.

Non-LinkedIn communication options

Call the company and ask for the person. Duh! Believe it or not, this still works with some people, especially with people who grew up using the phone as a phone 😉

Send an email. Some people provide their email address on their profile or you can use any one of the many internet tools for tracking down emails—or now that you know where the person works, check out the email format the company follows and take a guess at the person's email address.

Send the person something by snail mail. Since the dawn of email, most of us receive less physical mail. Personally, this causes me to open most of the snail mail I receive. An envelope with a handwritten address is even more likely to be opened.

Stop at the person's place of business and drop off some goodies. This will surely surprise the person. When I worked at M&M Office Interiors, we would drop off a bag of plain or peanut M&M’s.

LinkedIn is a great tool for researching and finding people and also communicating with them, but sometimes the best communication method might be one of the traditional methods.

Good luck engaging with the important people you find on LinkedIn!