Overview: Powerful and widely used, LinkedIn is THE place for professional social networking on the web today. An increasing array of features and tools makes this platform a wise time investment for any professional.

Defined: There are currently more than 34 million LinkedIn users from over 200 countries around the world, including executives from every Fortune 500 company. With more users than any other professional social networking site, LinkedIn is a formidable place to build, maintain, and track professional contacts. In addition to management of personal contacts, LinkedIn is an effective means of self-promotion, providing users space to maintain a living and public resume of work and educational experience.

The main feature is your public profile, consisting of any work experience, education, specialties, or interests you’d like to share:

You’ll notice that others who view your profile can see what contacts you share in common, request one of their contacts introduce you via email, contact directly via email, or make a recommendation of your work.

Once you complete your profile you can connect with others individually, or import your entire address book and let LinkedIn send out invitations to connect on your behalf. Similar to most other social networking sites, users can create or join groups that interest them. These groups are excellent places to meet other professionals around a similar interest, or receive valuable feedback by posting questions in the forums.

There are also a growing number of applications that users can add to their profile, such as RSS feeds from a personal blog, local events, local job postings, polls, and other useful tools.

LinkedIn is smart, you’ll see on your personal homepage a few suggestions of people the system thinks you may know due to shared contacts, geography, or work history. Users can also see how many degrees of separation exist between them and others on the system, ie the number 1 means that you are connected, number 2 means the person is connected to one of your personal connections, and so on. Additionally, users can view which contacts you share in common with other users, see any updates that their contacts have made to their profiles, and search for people by any number of keywords, titles, industry and more. The advanced searching capabilities of LinkedIn make it a formidable tool in finding jobs, business partners, employees, and valuable information about businesses.

Users can look up a particular company and view a number of fascinating statistics about the business, including which employees are on LinkedIn, what their titles are, age and gender ratios, which employees are within the user’s personal network, common job titles, employees that recently left the company, and more:

Business Applications: It should be obvious to you by now that LinkedIn is full of valuable business applications. With so many people using the platform, users can effectively network, find business opportunities or potential new hires, build a portfolio of work recommendations, share events and news, and perform reconnaissance on other companies. If your company isn’t already listed on LinkedIn, you can add it, along with as much information as you wish. Maintaining a profile on LinkedIn is easy, fun, and increases your google page rank, making it easier for others to find you and your products and services. The ‘answers’ portion of the site is a fantastic way to quickly receive valuable feedback and ideas from professionals around the world. Use LinkedIn to track your professional contacts and keep in touch, make new contacts, and learn about someone before ever speaking with them.

Recommendation: Create a LinkedIn profile, import your address book, and start taking advantage of this tool. The majority of the site is completely free to use, with varying monthly plans for additional features and options. I would also suggest including a personal note with every invitation you send to connect with other users, and if you’d like to be recommended for your work by others it helps to recommend their work first (although there is no limit to shameless requests for others to recommend your work).

If you have any questions about using LinkedIn please post them in the comments section, I’m happy to address them.