I am frequently asked, What are the appropriate ways to use all the different channels for sharing information on LinkedIn?

Before jumping into my answers, I want to give you a perspective on why this question is so important to LinkedIn users. Here are some of the thoughts that are probably going through your mind: 
  • There appears to be no hard and fast rules on what is appropriate and what isn't 
  • In my opinion, some people are doing way too much marketing and not enough real sharing
  • I am sometimes confused on what to say and where to say it
  • I don't want to mess up
With that backdrop, let's look at the two major types of communcation and what choices you have, direct and indirect. 
Direct Sharing


These messages go directly into their email inbox. There are three ways you can send an individual a direct message, which is essentially an email that comes through LinkedIn which was initiated from you.


1.    Direct message to any of your first-degree connections. You can send the same message to up to 50 connections at the same time.
2.    Direct message to a fellow group member. Access this by going to the group, searching the person's name, and then clicking "Send a message."
3.    An InMail message to any Linkedin member who has set his/her account to receive InMails. You only get five InMails in your entire "free" career on LinkedIn. After that, you get them by upgrading to one of the paid accounts or by purchasing them for $10 each. One cool feature of purchasing InMails is if the person does not respond in seven days, you get a $10 credit for a future InMail--basically a money-back guarantee--so don't rule this out if you have tried everything else.  
$$$$ Saving Tip:  To get around the $10 fee, you can join a group your target is in and then send him/her a message through the group.
Indirect Sharing
This part can be confusing to some people, but it is also where the fun starts and where the greatest marketing opportunity lies as long as you know what you are doing and have a strategy for doing so. In this case, a diagram might help you understand the channels for indirect sharing, so here is what I refer to as LinkedIn's Circles of Influence.


circles of influence 
As you can see, everything starts with YOU, the individual user on LinkedIn. Sort of cool, don't you think?


There are three different types of audiences you can share with: your direct connections, group members, and company followers. Some of the three audiences may overlap. All of these messages are not as "in your face" as the direct messages discussed above because the person may or may not see the information, depending on his/her individual activity level and habits on LinkedIn. Keep in mind that everyone approaches this differently.


Each audience has a different level of influence and expectation for communications. When deciding what to communicate and with which group(s), your overriding purpose should be helping and sharing good information. Strive to be a trusted thought leader, regardless of the audience, and address their pain point as it relates to your products and services. 


Your Network Connections 


Of course, these are the people who have chosen to be communicated with at the most personal level. You can share almost any information, always remembering the professionalism expected on LinkedIn. If you cross this line and start posting lots of Twitter or Facebook-like information or do too much marketing, some of your connections may remove you from their list of connections or hide your updates. This is a relationship of trust, so treat it accordingly.


These people want to hear from you as long as the information is useful, relevant, helpful or interesting, and from time to time a marketing message can be shared as long as it is not the only thing you ever share. There are no black-and-white rules, so watch what others are doing, and then use your judgment. 


Group Members  


These people expect the discussions you post or engage in with them will revolve around the group's mission as opposed to promoting your goods and services. It is the group manager's responsibility to monitor discussions so the discussion section doesn't become a replacement for the Yellow Pages.


Groups (especially groups in your industry and your customers' industries) are one of your biggest opportunities on LinkedIn to engage with existing customers and potential customers. So have a strategy to be active in the best available groups, and then mind your LinkedIn etiquette.


Company Followers  


These people have signed on and agree to receive status updates about what is going on at your company, so feel free to share a bit more information of a marketing nature. This is probably your biggest opportunity for sharing your marketing message to a large group of people. The key is to encourage people to follow your company. HP has almost a half million followers on their company page. Just think what an efficient way that is to communicate with a big group of people when they release a new printer.   


Multiple people from the company can share status updates, but they must be assigned by the company page administrator.  

Now that you know the channels available, I hope you are already starting to think of new messages your audience is just waiting to hear from you, the expert. 


For some of my thoughts on the kinds of information you should be sharing, check out "7 Good (and Bad) Ways to Use the LinkedIn Status Update Box."