LinkedIn may be the world's largest networking site (to date there are 860 million members!) but it's come a long way since the days of simply connecting professionals with one another. 

Today, LinkedIn has the power to help business owners -- local and global -- to market their brands to engaged audiences of fellow founders, industry influencers, decision makers, potential clients, and future team members.

As the co-founder of a content marketing agency, I find that it's essential to have a very active presence on LinkedIn. That means following and engaging with thought leaders, interacting with content from my network, and filling my own feed with helpful, relevant updates. 

Whether you're looking to simply grow brand awareness or want to turn new connections into promising leads, here are six ways to get started with LinkedIn marketing. 

1. Choose between a profile or a page.

First things first: Should you market your brand on a LinkedIn personal profile or a business page?

To put it simply, a profile is for an individual while a page is for a business. Though a business page may be necessary for general brand awareness, your personal profile is essential for building your own credibility within the industry through thought leadership, which in turn positively impacts your business' image.

For example, though my company Masthead Media has a business profile (which we update regularly with content), I create unique, first-person updates on my own LinkedIn profile -- and those tend to drive far more engagement.

For the sake of this article, let's focus on building and using your own LinkedIn profile to boost your brand image and establish you as an industry thought leader.

2. Optimize your profile. 

Before you do anything else, optimize your personal LinkedIn profile so that it reflects the brand image you want to put out there. 

Update the cover photo to a relevant image such as your brand's logo, and use the title section to let people know what you do. Make sure the "About" section is up to date and highlights the key messages you want people to know about your brand. List your role at the company as your current position. If you also created a page for the business, link to it here.

There are also several sections of the profile you can customize to highlight work you've done, press you've received, or awards you've won. It may feel awkward to share everything you're proud of, but self-promotion is necessary if you want to grow your business. 

3. Send personal invitations.

Connecting with others is an essential part of building your LinkedIn network -- you've probably sent and received hundreds of connection requests throughout your career!

But next time, instead of simply pressing "Connect," consider making your note more engaging by personalizing the invitation. 

Remind the person how you know each other or, if you don't, why you want to connect. Incorporating a human element goes a long way toward creating more meaningful associations. 

4. Publish consistently.

Regularly publishing or sharing insightful content helps position you as an expert in your industry, which ultimately boosts your brand's credibility. 

There are two main options for publishing LinkedIn content: posts or more in-depth articles. Articles allow you to share long-form topics -- similar to a blog post -- while LinkedIn posts are typically reserved for quick tips, insights, or hot takes on a recent trend (be prepared for a wide range of reactions if you go this route!). 

Already have an active blog or newsletter for your brand? Re-purpose the content you've created into LinkedIn posts to maximize your output without putting in extra effort. Bonus points if your email software allows you to share a preview link of your newsletter published on the Web -- then you can hyperlink the published send within your LinkedIn post as well. 

5. Don't forget the hashtags.

Hashtags aren't reserved for Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. On LinkedIn, hashtags are a discovery tool that helps get your content in front of more people. 

When publishing LinkedIn posts, include a few relevant hashtags so the posts show up when people search for that topic. If you don't know what hashtags to use, try out sites like Webmatrics or RiteTag, which will generate the top-performing hashtags for your post based on relevant keywords.

Try to limit the hashtags to no more than five: Too many hashtags can come across as spammy; one or two is enough to effectively get your point across. 

6. Engage with others in your industry.

At the end of the day, LinkedIn is a social-media platform, so it only makes sense to be social with the network you've built. 

Whenever you post, be sure to reply to any comments you receive and keep the conversation going. And if you're scrolling through your feed, don't just like posts you see. Comment and share your insights or let people know what you found valuable about their posts. 

By regularly sharing insightful content, optimizing your profile to reflect your brand, and engaging with others in your industry, LinkedIn can be an excellent tool to market your business and underscore your position as a thought leader worth following.