Social Media in Public Works 101 - Social Networks: LinkedIn

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Many of the public works professionals I've talked to have heard of LinkedIn — the online professional networking site. But not many are really sure what to do with it. Some have joined, filled out their profile, and little else. Others haven't joined, but regularly receive invites from their colleagues asking to connect through LinkedIn. If you've been wondering just what it's all about, pull up your office chair, grab a coffee, and get comfortable. We're going to give you the introductory tour and then walk you through the initial joining phase.

LinkedIn was established in 2003 to connect professionals around the world. Today, LinkedIn represents a network of more than 160 million professionals. Now you might be thinking, why do I need a website to keep track of my colleagues when I've got my trusty rolodex of cards or email contact list? One reason might have become apparent over the last few years — people are no longer staying with the same employer for very long. So unless you're sent new contact information every time someone gets a new job, it's easy to lose track of those valuable contacts. And a good business network takes years to cultivate; you don't want to lose those connections just because they move into another position.

One of the most valuable components of LinkedIn is the profile feature. Because people who join can fill their profile with a photo and information about their experience, expertise, background, former employers, and interests, it's a great place to learn about or review your contacts' work-related details. This is useful when reconnnecting. But it's also helpful for people trying to expand their network. And the next time you see someone at a public works event and can't remember exactly where they work or what they do, you can look up their LinkedIn profile for a quick review on your smartphone!

LinkedIn allows members to create and manage their own groups. These groups can represent interests, professions, companies, and many other topics. Managers can add others to help manage the group, and can establish the group as public, open to anyone, or private (membership-only by invitation or approval after a request to join has been accepted). Groups are great for encouraging open discussion, getting answers to questions, or just keeping track of what's going on in that specific area. You can access the continuing group discussions on the site or have summaries of each discussion emailed to you on a daily basis. (PUBLIC WORKS magazine has a small but growing group on LinkedIn, click here to join.)

While groups are great for tapping into the collective mind of members, there is also a question-and-answer feature on LinkedIn. Anyone can ask a question, and anyone can answer a question. While this feature is useful for those looking for information, others providing answers can use it to help establish their expertise in that subject.

Another huge value from LinkedIn is the ability to find or post jobs. If you're looking for a new job, you can regularly check postings using the site's search function. Or you can have LinkedIn send you regular job postings you might be interested in based on your profile.

So let's join this thing!
If you're not already a member, and any of the above has interested you enough to want to at least check it out, let's walk through how to join. First travel to the site by clicking Your screen should look similar to the image in this post. The site makes signing up fairly fast and easy process. Just fill in your first name, last name, email, and choose a password. Then, thinking that more than 160 million people can't be wrong, click the "Join Now" button.
LinkedIn Website

Edit your profile
Your main page should have a horizontal menu at the top — this is your route to other areas in LinkedIn. Once you are in, one of the first tasks to complete is filling out your profile. Click on the "Profile" word in this menu to reveal the drop-down menu and choose "Edit Profile." This takes you to your profile screen where you can input all the information about you that should be shared with your business colleagues. The layout is similar to that of a resume, offering you places to input your work experience and education. Because we've got some more exploring to do, don't worry about being too detailed right now — you can always come back and add information later.

Group up
The next step is to find at least one group to join. Click the "Groups" word at the top of your screen. This brings up a drop-down with several choices; click "Groups Directory." This takes you to a screen showing Featured Groups. And look, over there on the left, LinkedIn has placed a "search groups" window. We are going to make use of that search to look for groups related to what we do. You can type in any public works-related term. I tried "transportation" and got 2,501 results! A search for "public works magazine" takes you to PUBLIC WORKS' group. Once you find a group that looks good, go ahead and click the "Join" button. Some groups require approval to join, so depending on the group, you might have to wait to get your request to join approved. Some groups are open and allow anyone to view and comment on their discussions without having to join. You can join up to 50 groups.

The other key point to groups is that you can receive summaries of the group discussions in your email. Then you can click back to the site and read the information and provide your own comments. But not everyone wants more email (remember our first article in this series?). Fortunately, you can manage your group notifications in settings. This can be found by hovering over your name in the upper right corner of the screen and clicking "Settings" from the drop-down menu. In your settings page, click "Groups, Companies, & Applications" in the menu on the bottom left. Then click "Set the frequency of group digest emails." You can choose from "No Email," "Weekly Digest Email," or "Daily Digest Email."

Connect and network
OK, the last part is connecting to someone. It would probably be best to begin by searching for someone you know who you think might be on LinkedIn already. Just go to the main LinkedIn page and type in their name in the search box at the upper right-hand corner. There is also an advanced search available that allows you to search for people using key words and location. If you cannot find anyone, you can certainly connect to me. Just make sure you choose the option to add a message to your invitation, and mention that you read the PUBLIC WORKS magazine article and would like to connect. Once you connect with your colleagues, you can send them messages through LinkedIn or provide recommendations for each other.

If you've followed these suggestions, you are well on your way to making the most of LinkedIn. Once you feel comfortable with the site, you can also check out the jobs section or even search to see if your employer already has a company page. And if you have a question or just get stuck somewhere, LinkedIn has a useful Help Center — just scroll to the bottom of the site, and on the bottom menu look for and click "Help Center."



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About the Blogger

Pam Broviak

thumbnail image A former senior editor of PUBLIC WORKS, Pam Broviak publishes the Public Works Group Blog at (All views expressed in this blog are her own and not those of PUBLIC WORKS.)