Hello, LinkedIn Friends:

Let me start off with a quick trivia question:  Which social media website was launched first?

a) Facebook   b) MySpace   c) YouTube   d) Twitter   e) LinkedIn

Answer:  (e) Linkedin (May 2003) 

This may be a surprise to you.  It certainly was a surprise to me in April of 2008, when I started my investigation in earnest of LinkedIn, which at the time I considered to be a fad or passing phenomenon.  The reasons I had little or no interest in any type of social media are too numerous to share, but here are just a few:  I was pretty sure I didn't have time to check another set of emails, my kids were doing it, it meant spending more time on the computer, and I was positive it had nothing important to add to my already busy business life. 

Well, let me tell you that I was wrong!  I have now been using LinkedIn for nearly three years.  I have taught over 10,000 people how to use this powerful networking tool and have recently authored a book called The Power Formula for LinkedIn Success:  Kick-start Your Business, Brand, and Job Search.  

Veteran LinkedIn users, as well as those who are still investigating LinkedIn, consistently ask me, "Which LinkedIn feature have you found to be most useful?"  Well, I read between the words of this question and assume they really want to ask, "How can I spend the least amount of time and get the most benefit out of something I am really not interested in doing?" 

To answer this question, I draw upon my personal experience as well as knowledge I have gained from the many people who follow my advice and counsel on LinkedIn.  In response to the LinkedIn usage survey I conduct semiannually, over three-quarters of the respondents say people searching is the most useful LinkedIn feature.  In addition to the obvious fact that they now know profile information they previously did not know about a person, respondents also say they love being able to see relationships that may have always been there but were hard (and sometimes even impossible) to see.  It is sort of like wearing those 3-D glasses you get at the theater.  The glasses allow you to see more interesting details. Consider LinkedIn to be your personal set of 3-D relationship glasses.

Computer guy wearing 3-D glasses 

It is with this backdrop--and the fresh viewpoint that a new year usually brings--that I would like to help you strategize and plan how expanding your use of people searching can help you get the highest and greatest return from your time spent on LinkedIn in 2011. 

After giving this a lot of thought in the past few months, I believe the development of your strategy for people searching on LinkedIn boils down to being able to answer and work through the following five questions:

  1. Who do I want to meet?
  2. What keywords would those individuals use to describe themselves?
  3. What LinkedIn groups do those types of individuals usually join?
  4. What relationship(s) can I leverage to assist me in meeting those individuals?
  5. What goals or objectives can I set relating to those types of individuals?

When answering the first question--who do I want to meet--our tendency is to think solely about customers we want to sell to.  I challenge you to think past that category and move into other classifications, including employees, vendors, suppliers, donors, board members, referral sources, and strategic influencers, just to name a few.  Based on the businesses and organizations you are involved in and what your objectives are, you may come up with others.  It becomes a bit easier if you think about past relationships that have been important to your success and then look for new relationships that will mirror those.

The next step is to identify the different keywords those types of individuals usually use to describe themselves.  If you are having trouble with this, start by looking at the profiles for some of your current connections who are in the same category (customer, employee, etc.) and identify the keywords they have included in their profiles.

In order to find what LinkedIn groups your targets usually join, you can keyword search in the Group Directory or take a look at which groups your current connections have joined. 

Now use those keywords you have identified in the Advanced Search function, along with any other relevant criteria (such as geographic region), and perform a search to identify potential targets.  You can also use the same keywords to search in the groups to which you belong.  This will help you find people you would like to meet and show you how you are connected to them, whether as a member of the same group or through a first or second-degree connection.  

Now that you have uncovered potential targets, you will want to come up with specific actionable goals related to those types of individuals.  Those goals may look something like this:

  • I am going to use LinkedIn to identify, get introduced to, and meet two new people from this category each month.
  • I am going to join a new group or association that this category of individual belongs to. 
  • I am going to play a round of golf each summer with at least four people from this category whom I have not previously met.
  • I am going to set up one of my saved searches to find individuals who meet the criteria for one of these categories.
  • I am going to review the connections of at least one of my first-degree connections in a target industry in order to find new people to connect with on a monthly basis.

I hope this information will help you look at your LinkedIn usage in a new and more strategic way in 2011 and assist you in meeting (or exceeding) your goals for the new year.   

To help you get a jumpstart on your 2011 LinkedIn People-Searching Plan, I have prepared two handy tools:  "LinkedIn People-Searching Worksheet" and "LinkedIn Groups:  Ca$h In On This Powerful Tool."  They are available on the Free Resources page of my website:

By the way, just in case you are wondering, the launch dates for the other social media websites are:  

MySpace (August 2003), Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005), and Twitter (2006).