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Six LinkedIn features you probably don't know about

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While Facebook gets all the glory (and a fair amount of criticism) for frequent revisions to its service, LinkedIn keeps quietly getting better. Here are six useful features of the favored social network for b-to-b professionals that you probably didn't know about, but should. (Note: You must log in to LinkedIn to see some of the pages referred to below.)
  1. Follow companies. You can now choose to follow companies in the same way that you follow people on LinkedIn and Twitter. Status updates from those companies appear in your timeline, so you can keep track of new job opportunities, RFPs or activities of your competitors. If you have a company page on LinkedIn, you can see who comments and shares your status updates. Shares broaden your reach and identify fans and prospects. Comments can give you immediate feedback on how your news is being received. You can also see who has visited your page and group visitors by job function, industry and company.
  2. Competitive intelligence. LinkedIn rolls up information about members to create some intriguing company statistics. Drill down to see the most common categories of jobs at a company, its head-count growth and the percentage of employees who change titles each month. This can yield insight into reorganizations or turmoil at competitors or at companies you might be considering doing business with. The statistics page also tells you who recently changed jobs and who has departed the company, which can be useful information if you're looking for a job. The “most recommended” employees section is useful for recruiters seeking top-quality candidates.
  3. Products and services. If you have a LinkedIn company page, you can list descriptions, images and videos of your products and services and ask your customers to recommend them. Posting a recommendation is as simple as clicking a button, but customers can also post detailed comments. There's no downside for you because people can only cast a positive vote. You can also seek out recommenders to serve as case studies and reference customers.
  4. LinkedIn Alumni. This recently introduced feature can be a great source of contacts and leads. We know how strong school ties can be; now you can get a page that shows who on LinkedIn attended the schools you did, where they now work and what they do. If you're looking for an opening line to use when approaching a prospect or someone who can get your foot in the door for a job, a comment on the football team's performance last weekend might be a good starting point.
  5. LinkedIn Applications. Unlike Facebook's freewheeling approach to third-party apps, LinkedIn maintains a small but growing stable of useful tools to enhance your profile, keep up with news and share with others. You've been able to embed your blog posts, slide presentations and travel plans in your profile for some time, but more recent additions let you monitor real estate listings, find events and collaborate in shared work spaces. All apps take advantage of your shared connections or can be used to burnish your reputation.
  6. LinkedIn Signal. This little-known gem lets you filter LinkedIn status updates (including Twitter feeds) by keyword, but the real power is in the feature that lets you narrow results to specific companies, industries, locations or degrees of connection. Want to find out who's seeking legal advice in the Cleveland area? Signal can help.
Paul Gillin is an Internet marketing consultant and the author of three books about social media. He also writes the New Channels column in BtoB.
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