The most powerful feature on LinkedIn

Last week, I posted that the one thing that LinkedIn does best is provide a platform for enhancing your existing relationships. My premise was that everything else on LinkedIn is secondary, and that its true power is giving you more frequent contact with those you already know.

When it comes to features, though, my favorite thing about LinkedIn is advanced search. Search may seem like a simple thing, but it becomes tremendously useful when you consider the way LinkedIn is structured and the fact that LinkedIn has 140 million members. If used with just a little forethought, it can help you leverage your existing relationships to make new connections.

Here’s an example of why advanced search is so powerful: let’s say you’re a fund-raising consultant and you want to connect with organizations in northeast Indiana that might benefit from your expertise. Complete just four fields in advanced search, and you might find some valuable information:

  • Enter “46802” as the zip code , then choose “Within 50 files” from the dropdown
  • Click on “Fund-Raising” under “Industries”
  • Click on “2nd connections” under “Relationship.”

Here’s what that search looks like, with those fields circled in red:

The key to this search is selecting 2nd Connections–those you don’t know, but who are known by your 1st connections. Why? Read on.

If I were to conduct this search, here’s what the results would look like:

What you get isn’t immediately useful–it’s just a list of people you don’t know. In the old days, this type of information might have led you to make cold calls. And if you’ve ever done cold calls, you know how much of a waste of time they usually are.

But here’s where the true power of advanced search comes in: as shown below, you can see what connections you have in common with these LinkedIn members:

If it’s true that this person–a development director–might be a good person for me to know as a fund-raising consultant, then it makes sense of me to pursue a relationship with her. But instead of calling her directly, I can discover our shared connections and then call them to see if they’re willing to make an introduction or tell me about this person, her needs or my ability to be a resource to her. With 31 shared connections, it’s almost certain that someone would be willing to help.

Think of how much better this is than a cold call: it allows you to leverage not only the relationship you have with your connections, but the relationship they have with a trusted connection. If you use LinkedIn wisely, then your call or email to a 1st connection should be welcome, and that’s your best opportunity to get a foot in the door with a 2nd degree connection.

A couple of caveats:

  1. You can’t call the same 1st degree connections every day and ask for introductions. That’s the quickest way to lose their trust and ensure they won’t welcome your calls in the future. Be judicious, then, and only ask for help when it’s very important to you.
  2. If the same person who helped you asks for a favor, you need to reciprocate. Think of your request for an introduction as a debit that will need to be credited in some way in the future. Just be sure you don’t write a check you can’t cash.

Altogether, advanced search allows you to extend the value of LinkedIn’s true purpose–enhancing your existing relationships–so you can begin building new relationships and become a resource to an even greater number of connections.

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