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Often referred to as “Facebook for business”, LinkedIn is still largely a main social networking tool for entrepreneurs and companies.

Just as in the real world of business, building, maintaining and interacting with a network of contacts is key to growing.

It’s important to always think of LinkedIn as a business tool first and foremost, with a little socializing thrown in. Your contacts on LinkedIn are colleagues or acquaintances. Even if you do socialize with them away from work, save all that stuff for friends on Facebook.

Build Your Network

As with off-line business, it is important to have a large network on LinkedIn: The number of connections you have on LinkedIn really matters.

First-degree connections are the most important of all. People you’ve already done business with, or whom you know personally. Each of these contacts’ first-degree contacts then become your second-degree contacts, and theirs your third.

With each new first-degree contact you gain, your network grows exponentially, making it more likely that LinkedIn’s search algorithms will find you.

Stay Active

Business is business but people buy from people.

So even though LinkedIn is a business tool, you need to adapt some practices from other social media to grow your presence.

Post daily updates on your achievements, latest offers or new products. Add a call-to-action to engage with your audience. Comment on others’ posts. Congratulate them on good news or add something positive to their timeline.

If people can see that you engage, they are more likely to engage with you.

Personalize Connection Requests

Again, this is about making business personal.

If you see someone you’d like to connect with, don’t just send them the standard LinkedIn message but personalize it: “I really like what you do…”, “I’m interested on hearing what you think of…” and so on.

Advertise and Publicize

Don’t spam LinkedIn but list your products and services and run occasional features on them.

Write as much as you can about your particular area of business so that you are the go-to expert in that field.

And of course, if you’re a lot of people’s contact in that area, you’ll get referrals from your network.

Add your LinkedIn profile URL to your email signature.

Make your LinkedIn profile an online ad for you and your business.

Join and participate in groups

There are many groups on LinkedIn, including ones devoted to different industries and generic disciplines which can be applied to many.

There are pure business forums, where people meet and share ideas on marketing, sales and everything else which is business related.

The greater your presence, the more respected you will become and you will grow your network further.

Look around

Always be looking for people who might be useful but who you don’t have in your network, then send them a personalized request.

If you think someone might genuinely be able to assist your business and perhaps you theirs, say it straight.

Propose a strategic partnership.

Most importantly, don’t be shy.

Circulate, network, generate inquiries and start conversations.

Play a part in groups and use your knowledge to advise others.

Maintain all of this and LinkedIn will grow your business.