Linkedin represents an enormous opportunity when used effectively. Unfortunately, most professionals have no idea how to leverage this invaluable resource for optimal results. Here are my most powerful and productive strategies and tactics.

1. Focus on the highest-value connections.

For the longest time, I felt overwhelmed and intimidated every time I opened my Linkedin newsfeed. My eyes would wander endlessly and I’d wind up confused and confounded about what to do and where to go.

To help me focus I created a one-page list of the primary markets I wanted to connect with and now use this list to drive my efforts every time I visit Linkedin. This list represents the top companies I want to connect with and a profile of the typical decision maker for my services. It acts as a compass that points me in the right direction.

P.S.: It only takes five minutes to create.

2. Put your avatar on steroids.

Every time I receive a request-to-connect, the first thing I do is look at the person’s profile. It takes no more than five seconds to do, but is the basis for not only whether I will accept or reject their request, but also how I feel about them as a person. Don’t you do the same?

Your Linkedin profile is your online avatar. It shapes the perception of your professionalism and your value. Use the inverted writing style to help visitors zero in on who you do business with and what your value is to them. They should be able to do this without scrolling down.

P.S.: Most won’t.

3. Reach out.

In the past, when I received a request-to-connect, I’d usually accept if the requestor’s profile had any semblance of professionalism. What happened next was€¦absolutely nothing. Is that what you do?

I remember thinking €œThere has to be a reason why this person reached out to me.€ So I decided to start asking. After agreeing to connect, I now send a brief message asking why the person invited me to connect. I’ve been amazed at the responses.

P.S.: I dare you to try it.

4. Reach in.

I use to think of Linkedin as a numbers game. I was singularly focused to building new Linkedin connections. After all, isn’t a key point of Linkedin creating new connections in specific markets and with new professionals?

Don’t be afraid to leverage your existing connections. Many of your connections end up being past contacts and clients. It’s inevitable we lose touch with some of them, but Linkedin lets you stay aware of their journey and progress. In fact, it can act as the perfect vehicle to re-connect.

P.S.: Who should you reach in to today?

5. Think strategy not sales.

The majority of Linkedin users are business and sales professionals. They understand and appreciate the culture of networking. Yet, when interacting online, many lose their sense of perspective and propriety, misconstruing a connection as a buying signal.

Whether online or face-to-face, a connection is not equal to a relationship. Online connections are simply the first step in building a relationship. Relationships take time, need to be nurtured and require investment.

P.S.: How long is your sales cycle?

6. Start conversations.

Too often, we want to jump right into sales mode after a brief introductory exchange with a new Linked connection. I know I used to. Then I realized that we buy people first, ideas next and things last. Now I focus on building a relationship first.

Online, there is lack of human dynamic. I call it relationship inertia. To move a relationship forward online, start by using Linked in for small information exchanges that get the relationship pendulum swinging back and forth. It doesn’t take long for momentum to build.

P.S.: Isn’t that the way it works?

7. Let’s talk.

Online interactions can be cold, overly structured and one-sided. The lack of human dynamic tends to focus on a one-way communication style that can be misinterpreted. After all, you can’t see the other person so your words will always be filtered through the other person’s perspective.

One of the secrets to building powerful and productive relationships is the ability to bridge from the online environment to a live conversation, which exponentially drives the relationship process. When two humans connect and communicate, all is possible.

P.S.: Isn’t it about people?

Michael Hughes is known as North America’s Networking Guru. To get more info about his services or to have him speak at your next meeting or conference, visit his web site at www.NetworkingForResults.com”