You probably have a LinkedIn account and you occasionally get requests from acquaintances to connect. You oblige, but where do you go from there? Here are five easy ways to get started using LinkedIn to develop relationships and get people to know, like and trust you so they’ll buy from you.

1)      Complete your profile. This is an important step. You don’t need your full resume on there right away, but you want people to know where you work and what you do. That’s the whole point of networking, right? The more information that demonstrates your expertise, the better.

2)      Grow your list. Accept the connection requests you get from people you know. Keep in mind you don’t necessarily need to have met them, but you should have something in common. If you know the person or you know the person is an acquaintance of a friend, it’s probably safe to connect. You can immediately grow your list to 500+ connections by uploading your contact list, however, that bypasses the opportunity to make a personal connection with those people with a personalized invitation. After committee meetings, business meetings, networking events or even personal gatherings, search for the people you met on LinkedIn. It’s important to do this sooner rather than later. If you wait too long the people may not remember having met you and refuse your invitation. LinkedIn is better than business cards because when someone changes jobs, their business card immediately becomes obsolete, but if you’re connected on LinkedIn, you’ll be able to keep in touch with them in their new role.

3)      Watch your connections’ activity. When they change a position send them a message through LinkedIn congratulating them. It gives them a reason to check out your profile too and find out what you’re up to. When you agree with or like someone’s post or link, comment on it. That connection will consider it a compliment and all of their connections will see your comment and your connection with that person.

4)      Go ahead and post things. Share with your connections the types of projects you’re working on, the companies you’re working with and the volunteer work you love to do. Share links to articles about trends in your industry or about the strengths of the product or service you’re selling. Be careful not to post direct sales pitches all the time or you’ll turn people off. They did not connect with you to be sold to, but just like you, they hope to get some value out of the connection.

5)      Join groups. Go to the search field in the upper right-hand corner of LinkedIn and drop down to “groups”. Type in the name of your community or industry or other interests you have.  Join some groups that interest you and follow their discussions. You can subscribe to get emails daily or weekly when members of the group start discussions. Chime in when you have something to say. You can also check out the groups that your connections belong to. When you click on a connection’s profile you can scroll to the bottom and find all the groups they belong to.

6)      LinkedIn Answers. This is one of the best-kept secrets of LinkedIn. Under the menu item “more” find “answers.” You’ll see questions asked from 1st and 2nd connections in your network. Chances are you have something in common with many of these folks (that’s why you know them J). LinkedIn also suggests question and answer categories for you based on your profile. Read through the questions and see if you have answers to help them out. You can also ask your own questions. Questions and answers don’t have to be factual; they could be opinion as well.

Bottom line, don’t be afraid. You’re good at what you do and you have value to add to your connections. Trust that they’ll appreciate your contribution to the “community”. After you’ve developed a “reputation” on LinkedIn, I guarantee you’ll start receiving inquiries from people who want to do business with you or hire you or meet you and learn from you.

How do you use LinkedIn to build relationships?