The #Meme15 assignment from Jason Strate (Blog/@StrateSQL) for February is to describe how and why we use LinkedIn. I felt this was a little bit of slam dunk, since I have previously described in this space how LinkedIn helped me get my current job.
To me LinkedIn is basically the professional Facebook (with no disrespect intended to either Facebook or LinkedIn); I use it to keep track of the people with which I cross paths professionally - both the people I like working with and the people I prefer to avoid. I originally just connected with people I enjoyed working with, but several people have pointed out to me over the years that it useful to "keep your enemies closer" (I will pause while you argue amongst yourselves whether the quote comes from Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, or Michael Corleone.)
I recently saw a talk from Karen Lopez (Blog/@Datachick) that pointed out something else meaningful about LinkedIn and other professional online networks - keep them updated. Through the early part of my career seeing someone update their LinkedIn profile was basically code for "I'm looking for a new job." Constantly keep your profile updated and post updates (similar to Tweets) to your profile. I use Tweetdeck (even after the redesign) to simultaneously post things to Twitter, to LinkedIn, and sometimes to Facebook as well. Staying constantly updated has two benefits - when you do look for a job, it isn't a major chore to update your network, and if you constantly update your profile, it is easier to hide the fact that you are looking from people you'd prefer not to know.
The biggest downside to LinkedIn is also one of it's purposes (and sometimes benefits) - the fact that you will be stalked (not could be, but *will* be) by recruiters/contractors/etc. looking to offer you jobs that may or may not be relevant in cities to which you may or may not be interested in relocating. This is a minor annoyance and to me an acceptable cost to the benefits of the system.
This is me on LinkedIn - see you there!