Here, you have a few options: If you’re new to an industry or could benefit from this potential contact more than he or she could benefit from you, use the Get Introduced tool, in which you ask a current connection to introduce you to one of theirs. (Try to ask those whom you are confident would do you the favour.) If you think the potential contact will perceive that he or she could benefit from knowing you as well, then you could probably just message the person directly. However, you’ll be limited to 300 characters, whereas introductions have no character limit. Still, if you go this route, personalise your message, rather than send the preset LinkedIn intro. Don’t just make it about what they can do for you, but what you can do for them.
If the person seems to have a less permissive policy around connecting on LinkedIn, then you may want to get a real-life introduction by mentioning your interest in meeting this person to mutual friends. Or try to engage this person on some other platform where they might be more active, like Twitter, or just email them directly — though this latter strategy is best used when you have something specific to discuss, not just when you want to add them to your network.
4. Once you’ve got a valuable network, snoop.
Snooping is the best way to use LinkedIn, but only after you’ve forged good connections. Let’s say you’re interested in a job posting. You can use LinkedIn to find former employees who could give you insight into the company’s culture or to determine which of your own friends and acquaintances know current employees who could make an off-LinkedIn connection for you.
LinkedIn could also be useful in the reverse situation – if you’re hiring. If you’re on the fence about an applicant and see that a colleague of yours knows him or her, then you can do a bit of reconnaissance.
You can also use LinkedIn even if you’re not looking at a specific job by exploring specific industries or companies. Say you want to find venture capital funding or that you want to work at a certain company. Do a search for the industry or company and then see which of your colleagues could introduce you to someone who works there via LinkedIn or in real life.
Since few people check LinkedIn every day (only 13% use it every day and 34% use it every week, according to Pew), if you can, try to reach out to your connection via email or Facebook, or another platform where they are active, so your request doesn’t go unnoticed.
Through their networks, friends and family of mine have landed jobs through LinkedIn, hired people from it and gained access to important people that they had discovered on it. I have personally been recruited on the site, gotten story ideas from it, and been approached by colleagues looking to contact some of my connections. I’ve been especially impressed when others have used the site for research but then reached out to me via email or another avenue. They knew they’d be more likely to receive a response if they reached out to me through a non-LinkedIn platform.
5. Stay active on the site.
Getting the most out of LinkedIn isn’t just about using it when you want something specific. In general, it’s good to remain active even when you don’t have a grand purpose. Remind your contacts that you’re doing good work by regularly sharing links relevant to others in your industry, keeping your profile current, and updating your profile when you are hired for a new position or have another accomplishment to tout.
Finally, as with anything on the internet, the website will continue to evolve features and functionalities, so be sure to stay current with Blog.linkedin.com, LinkedIntoBusiness.com, or LinkedIn’s Tuesday night Twitter chats so you can use the site to your best advantage.
This article was first published on Forbes.com.
This post is adapted from the Forbes eBook, The Millennial Game Plan: Career And Money Secrets To Succeed In Today’s World, by Laura Shin, which you can buy at Apple (iBooks), Amazon, (Kindle) and Vook (Nook, etc.).