One of the easiest ways to begin building your LinkedIn network is by using your existing contact list as the foundation. LinkedIn provides several ways to import your contacts from a range of e-mail programs, both from the web (Gmail, Hot-mail) and from your desktop (Outlook). No one is automatically added to your LinkedIn contact list, which is called “My Connections.” On this network, members have to agree to join. In fact, they have to accept an invitation.
Here's how that works: You hover your cursor over “Contacts” and then click on “Add Connections.” This takes you to a form for entering e-mail addresses. Add the e-mail address of the person you'd like to invite, click “Send Invitations,” and you're done. That person will get an e-mail that says “I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” If they want to join, they click “accept.” You'll get an e-mail notice of their decision, one way or the other. If the person you invited is not already on LinkedIn, he or she must join to accept.
All the people on your LinkedIn connections list are known as “first degree” connections. These are the people you know and trust. The contacts on their lists are your “second-degree” connections — they're two people away. A third-degree connection is three people away, and so on. (Their profile summaries are marked “2nd” and “3rd” depending on their relationship to you.) If you'd like to add a second-degree connection to your own list, you'll need to ask for an introduction from a mutual contact.
Here's how that works: Find the LinkedIn profile of the person you'd like to meet. Hover your cursor over the profile, and if they're available, a “Get introduced” link will appear on the right. Click on that link and you'll be sent to a form for requesting the introduction. (This only works with second- or third-degree connections.)
LinkedIn members are free to introduce anyone on their contact lists to each other, but they're not required to. An introduction expires after six months, and the number of introductions you're allowed depends on your service level.
LinkedIn advises its members to send Invitations only to people they know and trust — people you work with, you've been to school with, or hired. One reason you really do want to populate your connections list with people who know you is that you want them to recommend you.
The Recommendations list is a key component of a complete LinkedIn profile. These things are exactly what they sound like: comments written by other members, in which they sing your praises. The recommendations you receive are visible to members within your network, but also, to Fortune 500 companies that use the LinkedIn Recruiter corporate tool. According to LinkedIn, members with recommendations from co-workers, colleagues, customers, clients, business partners, and former employers “are three times more likely to receive relevant offers and inquiries through searches on LinkedIn.”
LinkedIn members can access recommendation options by clicking on “Recommendations” in the Profile drop-down menu. This opens a tabbed page that lists the recommendations you've received and sent. Click on the “Request Recommendations” tab to ask for a thumbs up from the people in your connections list; click the “Sent Recommendations” tab to see a list of the recommendations you have provided. At the bottom of the Received Recommendations page is a place to send recommendations of your own.
LinkedIn has an outstanding Help feature that includes detailed explanations of just about everything you need to know, and many video demonstrations of exactly what to do. Be sure to check out a help entry entitled “10 Ways to Use LinkedIn by Guy Kawasaki.” Mr. Kawasaki is the managing director of VC firm Garage Technology Ventures, a former Fellow at Apple Computer, the author of nine books, and an all-around smart guy when it comes to social networking.