LinkedIn has become a regular part of business life.  But other than prospecting or recruiting, you may not be getting real value from this expansive resource.  Only about 16 percent of the people who are signed up use the premium service. And many profiles sit with minimal or outdated information.

LinkedIn is not a toy or even a social network.  It is a tool for you to grow yourself and your network. Even if you are not selling something or searching for employees, there are wonderful ways to use LinkedIn to grow your mind, your network and your business objectives.  But you have to proactively take the steps to get the value.  Here are 5 ways to do it.

1. Make yourself a desirable target. So many people put minimal information on their profile. I understand that not everyone is comfortable for self-promotion. But your profile should reflect not only your experience, but also your interests and your personality. The more detailed information you provide, the easier it is for people looking for someone like you will recognize you as someone worthy of their time. Make sure your profile is complete and shows attention to detail. If your picture, descriptions and activities are attractive and compelling, then other attractive people will be compelled to connect with you as well.

2. Build a peer group. Groups are useful, however many people involved in groups are either just quiet observers or rambling conversation hogs. Control the conversation.  Build and manage your own peer group that is information based. It sounds intimidating if you aren't a prolific writer, but here is how you do it. Create a list of 10 questions you wish you could answer in order to advance your mission. Form a group and send invites including those topics to others in your industry. Tell them you'll be covering these topics and ask them for input as well. This way people will join you on a meaningful journey and keep the discussions valuable.

3. Relate in a personal way. I hate when I connect with someone and they immediately start pitching me.  In fact I generally mark their message as spam and disconnect right away. Just because LinkedIn is a networking site, doesn't mean that you have instant rapport with someone. Build personal relationships slowly and with intention. If you want to truly connect with powerful people, read their profiles carefully.  Go to their websites. Learn about them and find some common ground for a meaningful conversation. Figure out how you can share reciprocal value. The most valuable relationships--online or otherwise--don't happen overnight and are worth the time and effort.

4. Broaden your knowledge. LinkedIn is not just a tool for getting to know people; it's an incredible learning tool as well. I spent 25 years as a mortgage originator. I reviewed thousands of financial packages and learned much about how people spend both their money and their time.  I was able to see trends and gain an understanding of how people prioritize. LinkedIn doesn't have the financial info, but it is a massive treasure trove of data on how people manage their work, careers and industry.  Whether you want to drill down by exploring 20 profiles of Marketing VPs or find out about the longevity of petrochemical specialists, the data is there and easily searchable.  An hour a week exploring profiles and group discussions outside your purview will make you much more adept at seeing opportunities beyond your field.

5. Learn the tools. LinkedIn changes it up more than any other social media network. New features pop up and old ones go away. You may or may not find the value in premium services, but there are plenty of tools for free that are worthy of exploration.  But tools won't work by themselves. I love that LinkedIn spends millions of dollars to keep finding ways for you to do business better. Don't take this goldmine for granted. Show some appreciation by exploring their offering and providing feedback on the tools that you find most and least valuable. It takes some effort to stay on top of which ones are worth your while, but if you do, you'll be making better use of what it has to offer than 90% of the other users.

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