Imagine you’re at an after-hours business event. At this event, hundreds of professionals from various industries are mingling, making connections and passing out business cards. You know this is a golden opportunity to connect and build your network, but how do you filter through the fray of people to find strategic, mutually beneficial connections and leads?

Although LinkedIn is a virtual networking platform, the same question applies. Here are a few hints for acquiring valuable connections via LinkedIn.

The 25/75 Rule. Generally, when connecting with people on LinkedIn, aim to populate 25 percent of your connections with industry folks and 75 percent with your target market. For example, if you are a financial professional who specializes primarily in retirement and 401(k)s aim to connect with individuals on the cusp of retirement or in groups that fit your target market 75 percent of the time. The other 25 percent of your connections should consist of fellow advisors and industry leaders.

Connect to groups. Groups are gold mines in the LinkedIn world. Whether you’re seeking to find valuable connections, increase brand exposure or simply be aware of industry trends, groups will help you achieve your objectives. When connecting with groups, apply the same 25 percent industry connection rule/75 percent potential client rule. Also seek out local and personal interest groups. Ask yourself, “Which groups are my potential clients connected to?”

Some groups have upward of 10,000 members. That’s a huge audience, so take advantage and post blogs, surveys, discussions and articles. Alternatively, start or engage in conversations about pertinent industry topics. Or simply observe and learn from leaders in your industry.

LinkedIn is king when it comes to business networking. Whether you’re researching new marketing ideas, seeking prospective clients or attempting to stay up-to-date on industry trends, LinkedIn is the place to go.

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Amy McIlwain is a professional speaker on social media and president of Financial Social Media, an online marketing firm specializing in the financial industry. She can be reached through her website at www.financialsocialmedia.com and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.