Your firm has acknowledged the business potential represented by the world’s largest professional social network and has given you the green light to leverage LinkedIn to cultivate relationships and generate leads. So, what’s next? Most likely, your firm has already developed and implemented social media compliance policy and technologies. Make sure you’re up to speed on all policy and follow it to the letter—from the initial profile approval through sticking to content guidelines in all of your posts.  Adhering to your firm’s policy will prevent you from crossing any regulatory lines.

With compliance concerns out of the way, it’s up to you to learn and implement best practices for getting the most out of social channels to unlock the full potential of social business. From working with thousands of financial professionals, we know that social media success comes from content and conversations. But the best content and the friendliest conversational tone won’t help you without the right audience. You don’t have to have the biggest network in the world, but you do need to build up to a critical mass of connections.

A recent Socialware blog post featured a LinkedIn survey that was released in conjunction with the LinkedIn Financial Services Summit. The survey lends credence, in the form of some exceptional research, to what we’ve known anecdotally for years: Financial professionals are using social media more than ever and they are reaping the benefits. Today, two-thirds of Internet users with investment accounts have social media profiles. Financial professionals who use social media to build out their networks and prospect base are three times more successful than their non-social-media-savvy peers when it comes to gaining new clients.

If you’re not yet active in social media, LinkedIn is a good place to start, and it’s where many of your colleagues are already active. Research shows that 91% of financial advisors have a profile on LinkedIn.

In our experience, growing LinkedIn connections to the 350 – 400 range is when producers really start seeing significant results.  So, how do you reach this critical mass? What if you’ve exhausted all of your first-line connections by importing e-mail contacts and reaching out to former classmates and colleagues, but you’re only at 150 connections? Don’t lose hope. You likely do already have 400+ professional connections on LinkedIn — you just haven’t found them yet. Remember: It’s not only about the 150 connections you have; it’s about the thousands of connections they have. These people are your prospects.

Here are a few tools and tactics you can use to build out your network and start seeing leads:

1. People You May Know: This feature is LinkedIn’s algorithmic way of suggesting likely contacts. Check it frequently, because it’s a fluid tool that suggests connections based on commonalities between you and other LinkedIn members. The more connections you gain, the more suggestions you’ll receive.

2. Built-in search tools: Successful advisors use LinkedIn search tools to narrow their searches and target viable prospects. The updated Advanced People Search features allow you to drill down to a new level of detail, including members’ seniority level, interests and even the length of time since they’ve joined LinkedIn.

3. Referral introductions: If a member is within your extended network, you can click the Get introduced through a connection link shown on the member’s profile and connect with people who are two or three degrees away from you. You can select a mutual connection to sponsor and introduce, which provides you with the all-important warm introduction.

4. Activity: In the social media world, activity equals exposure. Make sure to post regular status updates, link to relevant articles, and share and comment on the updates of your connections regularly. Also, answer and post questions on LinkedIn Answers (under the More tab) to show your expertise.

5. Groups: Look for LinkedIn groups devoted to your professional interests that are labeled very active.” Don’t just join them and lurk; participate in their discussions to gain visibility.

6. Events: Nothing has as much impact as old-fashioned, face-to-face networking. The LinkedIn Financial Services Summit is the big daddy of them all, but the LinkedIn Events section (under the More tab) gives you access to events in all industries and geographies and even lists attendees. You can create events as well.

You need to be active on LinkedIn and optimize your content with information that your contacts find relevant. And you don’t have to stick to just financial content. Let your personality and humanity show through.

The key to attracting and growing the right audience lies in sharing news, articles and insights that are relevant to your connections. Keep in mind that when you share something that members of your network comment on, you’re gaining exposure to their network as well. To easily find and share content that is interesting and relevant to your prospects, consider using the LinkedIn Today site, which you can find on the News tab. This tool allows you to locate popular, trending content to share with your network and customize the page to feature selected articles. In short, don’t just use LinkedIn as a way to collect connections. Use it as a tool to position yourself as a knowledgeable and dynamic member of the financial community.

With 161 million members and counting, LinkedIn is not only an increasingly welcome way to do business—it’s also increasingly critical to your success. We’re interested in your feedback. What successes have you had with LinkedIn?

For more LinkedIn tips, see:

The 4 LinkedIn Connection Styles

3 Social Media Mistakes to Avoid

4 Ways to Get Started with Social Media