A question I often get asked by insurance agents at conferences is “I’ve signed up on LinkedIn. What’s next?”

If you’re not familiar with it, LinkedIn is the professional social network. Its 175 million members from 200 countries form the wealthiest and oldest demographic among the most popular social networking sites. We members are predominantly male and college educated. (Fortunately for many of us males, LinkedIn also allows only one photograph—the profile photo.)

Though LinkedIn does not come with a user’s manual, you don’t need to be a computer whiz to derive immediate benefits from the site. Here are five quick ways to maximize your participation on LinkedIn:

1. Groups. To network with as many people as you can, join as many relevant groups as you can. Currently, you have a choice of nearly 150,000 groups on LinkedIn. For instance, I have joined alumni groups for the three colleges I attended, for the current and former companies for which I have worked and for my business interests (such as “keynote speakers”). I have also created groups and have asked others to join.

Groups you may be interested in joining include the finance club (262,654 members), global insurance professionals (40,192 members) and global insurance network (30,361 members). You may never know when these people may be able to help you, or more important, when you may be able to help them.

To get started, simply click the “Groups” link on the top left of the screen.

2. People. By making an entry and clicking on the “People” box at the top of the right screen and also using the “Advanced” link to the right of the box, you can search for LinkedIn members by criteria such as:

  • Name
  • Company
  • Location
  • School attended
  • Title

At one point in my career, I was interested in becoming a brand manager. Had LinkedIn been in existence then, I could have done a keyword search on the job title “brand manager.” I could then have looked to see who was a direct or even a second-degree contact. A second-degree contact would be a direct contact of one of my connections on LinkedIn.

On a second-degree contact’s profile, I could have clicked the “Get introduced through a connection” link. This would have sent an email to both my connection and the second-degree contact.

On average, you will get a positive response from one or both of the contacts about 70 percent of the time. That percentage is a lot higher than if you tried to cold call or reach the second-degree contact on your own.

3. Jobs. Once I had received some insights about being a brand manager and decided that it was a position worth pursuing, I could have clicked on the “Jobs” link at the top of the screen, and using the keywords “brand manager,” have searched for jobs in that field among the millions of jobs currently posted on LinkedIn.

If you are an employer, you can also post a job. LinkedIn claims, “LinkedIn Jobs receive on average 35+ applicants.”

4. Answers. Under the “More” drop down, find the “Answers” link and your area of expertise. You might be able to help a fellow member and make a contact. Or, if you are stuck, you can ask your own question. Many professionals find that answering questions on LinkedIn for those who actually have a need they can meet can be a very efficient way to prospect.

5. Companies. Let’s say you have been trying to get into Procter & Gamble to sell your commercial services. With a multinational corporation like that, where would you even start? Well, you can go to the “Companies” link at the top of the screen, click on “Search for Companies” and enter the name.

In the case of P&G, I noticed that 40 of my second-degree contacts are listed, along with the name of a direct contact who knows them. Using this method, I could request an introduction through my direct contact. I could also scroll down the page to discover who has recently changed their job title and as a result may be open to new ideas.

The power of LinkedIn. Let’s say you currently have 288 connections. LinkedIn would inform you that you have tens of thousands of contacts who are friends of friends (second-degree contacts), each one connected to one of your connections. In addition, you would also have literally millions of third-degree contacts you could reach through a friend of a friend of a friend.

And that’s the astonishing power of LinkedIn.

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Ted Janusz is an expert in face-to-face and social-media networking and the author of “Social Media Marketing Guide for the Insurance Professional.” He also conducts time-management seminars across the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. For more information, go to http://www.januspresentations.com/index.html