You see the LinkedIn request come into your e-mail from a former co-worker. They want to connect. But what does this mean? And if you say yes, will it really help you professionally?
"LinkedIn is where business professionals develop real world relationships, and not cyber ones," says Jason Seiden, co-founder of Ajax Social Media. "But you have to be sure to present yourself with credibility."
Seiden says unlike Facebook, where people have thousands of friends, the first step to being credible on LinkedIn is to limit your contacts to people you really know.
"More connectivity is not better," says Seiden. "When we go into companies and verse them on best practices with LinkedIn, we stress that there is no magic number, but you should be judicious in accepting connections. You should know who your first connections are just by looking at the names and feel comfortable picking up the phone to call them."
One of the biggest mistakes Seiden sees in LinkedIn is bad writing in a profile.
"Someone will size you up almost instantly when they read your profile or summary," he says. "Your resume only speaks to a recruiter, but your story on LinkedIn is what grabs people."
While telling your tale, Seiden says, be careful not to write a memoir.
"A few sentences is OK if it tells us who you are," he explains. "Ask for help if writing isn't one of your skills, because you can't get another first impression. So many people just cut and paste a job description. Don't do this! Hire someone to help you write a summary that captivates and explains who you are."
Avoid generic titles such as partner, writer, staff accountant, or account manager. And having a photo could increase your click-through by about 40 percent.
"You don't need to get a professional photo taken, but be sure not to have any alcohol in the shot," Seiden says. "Don't be too playful. Anything you present, just imagine someone looking at you and thinking, 'Can I see myself doing business with this person?' "
And those pictures of the family barbecue?
"People ask how they can separate their personal and professional selves in social media and I tell them that everything is 'profersonal', which is a made up word I use," he says. "In LinkedIn, you want just enough personal information to be human, but not enough to be distracting."
When it comes to recommendations, it's about quality, not quantity.
"Research shows that people want to see recommendations, but it's also showing that the strength of recommendations is starting to wear thin," Seiden says. "It's better to see a handful from people that matter or people in high positions than 200 or more from your friends or co-workers. Show me one from a satisfied client, or the head of the company. People doing the hiring and firing."
And if you're worried about getting in trouble at work for being on LinkedIn, Seiden says it's something that every business person should be doing, even if they're happily employed.
"If you have your resume ready to go, you already have one foot out the door. If you're connecting on LinkedIn, you're getting more versed with who someone is so you can have more interactions with them on the phone or in a professional arena. The best time to get your LinkedIn profile in shape is right now."