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Are You Linked In? Five Tips to Use LinkedIn Wisely
by Bryn Mooth

Are you looking to break into a new market? That's exactly what I needed to do when I left a longtime role at HOW magazine and embarked on a second career as an independent writer. Early on, I discovered that networking isn't about indiscriminately casting into the unknown, but rather about making meaningful connections, both online and off. Thinking of this as a form of personal engagement, not as an effort that's random and difficult, has made networking a little easier. I'll share the smart ways I've learned to use social media to help me make those connections.

Choosing the right tools. Becoming an independent professional meant that I needed to shift the way I use social media, to place less emphasis (and spend less time) on Facebook and invest more energy in LinkedIn. Full confession: I don't love LinkedIn. It's not a 'hang-out' online space like Facebook is. But it can be a valuable business tool for indie creatives, and here's why:

It's a virtual Rolodex, with about 100 million users.

LinkedIn is useful for finding new contacts — and just as important – for re-connecting with former colleagues, business partners, clients and associates who might be good prospects.

Media and technology guru Chris Brogan advises devoting just a half an hour a week to monitor and participate in LinkedIn, which makes it less time-sucky than Facebook can be. He writes:

"See someone you should connect with? See someone you haven't talked with in a while? Drop them a line. That's the real meat of this. You can do lots once you get into a few really simple habits. But it requires you to schedule the time and go through with it."

Writer and consultant Ilise Benun of Marketing Mentor offers terrific advice for freelancers on using LinkedIn. Two of her tips have really helped me make good use of the 30 minutes I devote each week to using LinkedIn: keep a strategically updated profile, and engage in groups.

Update your profile. LinkedIn is built for job-seekers, which means your user profile resembles a résumé. But independent creative pros should make smart use of key sections to introduce prospects to their expertise and offerings. I'll show you what I've done to finesse my profile: www.linkedin.com/in/brynmooth

Your headline. This is the section that appears directly below your name, and it's the first thing people will see when they connect. Use it to succinctly express what you do. Don't be cute or clever; be straightforward and concise. My headline, for example, reads Independent journalist and copywriter focused on food, wellness and creativity.

Your summary. Most LinkedIn users simply rehash their résumés in the summary field. But the summary demands a more strategic, marketing-oriented copy approach. Here you can speak directly to prospects, demonstrate that you understand their needs, and address how your services and expertise can address those needs. Use the same kind of promotional language that you use on your website to communicate your offerings. Write for your market, not for your peers. Update the specialties field to cover the breadth of your experience and services. And use the summary and specialties fields to insert the keywords your prospects might be searching.

On the Personal Branding Blog, Peter Sterlacci shares concise how-tos on writing your headline and summary:

"By using 'I am...' or 'My name is...' you are speaking directly to those looking for you on LinkedIn. While the summary is not immediately visible unless someone views your full profile, it is probably the most important area on your profile. Treat this summary box as if it were your 'elevator pitch.'"

Find groups to join. Creative types like to associate with others like them, and so it's good to join groups on LinkedIn like AIGA, the Creative Freelancer Conference, Freelance Switch, and other groups for writers, designers and creative pros. But to use LinkedIn for prospecting, you need to be where your clients are. For me, that means joining groups like Slow Food, Food Industry Marketing & Communications Professionals, Women & Wine and the like.

Don't just join, engage. LinkedIn group discussions make great opportunities to demonstrate your subject-matter expertise. Ask smart questions. Post helpful and well-informed answers. Share links to relevant articles, whether it's your own writing or not. Show what you know. I've had several prospects who've seen my input in a food industry group reach out to me initially via LinkedIn and then offline; one of those contacts has expressed an interest in working together.

Remember: It's not about randomly casting your net online, it's about making meaningful connections.

Bryn Mooth is an independent journalist and copywriter who helps creative agencies and clients tell mouthwatering stories to their audiences. She focuses her writing on food, wellness and creativity. She's the former editor HOW, the magazine, conference and book line for creative professionals. Find her at www.writes4food.com.