So you’re on LinkedIn but not really sure how you should be using it. Is it a good use of your time? What exactly should you be doing when you are there?

In the first post in this series, we made the case that LinkedIn is both a widely used tool and is seen as effective by those that know and use it well. We also reviewed the most realistic goals for a LinkedIn strategy. In this post we’ll explore the top “tools” that LinkedIn provides with its free accounts. These tools will provide all the functionality that most professional services executives are likely to need. (If, however, you are planning to use LinkedIn as a recruiting tool, may want to consider exploring some of the platform's premium account features.)

So let’s hit the basics.

1. Your Profile
Your profile is the single most important component of your LinkedIn strategy. People you meet at networking events, prospective clients, and referral sources will check you out on LinkedIn. As a result, your profile is arguably as important as your bio page on your firm's website. Make your entry complete and use appropriate keywords to get your point across. Always include a professional photo that is consistent with the image you want to project. Don’t forget to ask people for references. Linked has a handy little bar that tells you how complete your profile is.

2. Your Contacts
This is the list of people that you are connected with on LinkedIn. You can communicate directly with these folks, if you wish. In addition, they receive regular updates on activities that you choose to share. Having a robust list of contacts is important. This is your professional network and, as in the offline world, it is important to grow and nurture it. How many do you need? I find that getting over 200 is a good target to shoot for. 

3. Your Company Page
Your firm can also have its own page on LinkedIn. Be sure to include at least the basic information about your firm. You will notice that LinkedIn automatically associates all members listing your firm as their place of employment with your firm profile.

4. Groups
The groups function is where LinkedIn becomes a serious networking tool. You can start you own groups or participate in the thousands of groups already there. Some are very large with over 100,000 members, and some are very small. You can join groups of your peers (e.g., other Managing Partners or Marketing Directors) or groups populated with potential clients. To get started, try searching for groups by keywords. Also look at the profiles of your clients. What groups do they belong to? You can belong to up to 50 groups so don’t be shy about joining a few to learn what's on people’s minds. You can also start your own group. But starting a LinkedIn group is like buying a puppy. While it's easy to do it requires a lot of ongoing care. I put running a group in the more advanced category.

5. Answers
You can post a question or provide an answer to a question someone else has posted. This is a very common way to demonstrate your expertise in a subject area. People can rate the quality of answers, so you can be designated as someone who provided the best answer (typically the most detailed and specific). Some folks make good use of this tool, although it can be time consuming to compose a carefully-reasoned response.

6. Events
You can post or attend events of all kinds in your area or a city that you are traveling to. This can be a good way to turn an online networking tool into face-to-face networking opportunities. Some folks build their entire LinkedIn strategy around using events to meet people in person.

7. Search
Search is one of LinkedIn's best features. You can search for people, firms or groups for starters. This is a good way to track down a contact or research a contact. There are other ways to searchl (e.g., searching Answers), so you have a lot of ways to find what you are looking for.

With these top tools in mind, we’ll turn our attention next week to crafting a practical LinkedIn strategy for you or your firm.