Establishing your identity online can be a difficult feat, but drawing traffic to your LinkedIn profile is an important task whether you are in the pursuit of a new job or are the head honcho at your current company going on 20 years strong. With over 400 million users to date, LinkedIn is the largest professional network on the internet and is surely a handy tool to promote your skills and business online, but in such a large pond how do you stand out? Who are you? Let’s explore some simple steps that you can take today to become a big fish.

Firstly, if you’re not yet convinced of the importance of LinkedIn, let’s toss a few facts out there:

According to the Pew Research Center, LinkedIn is used majorly by the educated and higher earners, people who hold a bachelor’s degree and make an average of $75k a year. These are the types of people who would make excellent professional connections. It is also measured that 50-64 year-olds are using the site more than the standard 18-29-year-old age bracket for social media, proving those with higher levels of professional experience are utilizing this tool. It’s also important to mention that 98% of recruiters and 85% of hiring managers use LinkedIn to find candidates to fill roles and partnerships.

Now I’m sure at some point you’ve created an account. Let’s reach into cyberspace, wipe off the accumulation of dust and turn your profile into an effective marketing tool. The steps are simple: create an identity, build your network and tap into the professional world.

Creating an identity

Your profile is going to be the first impression and it should be professional, personalized and true. This should always be kept up-to-date and consistent. A detailed profile conveys that the person is successful and connected. The LinkedIn wizard will take you through the steps of entering all the necessary criteria to have an established profile. You will input the fundamentals such as location, industry, job title, and description. It is important to go beyond the basic profile setup and complete your profile 100%. Some key elements include:

· Personalize your URL: When you first sign up you will be given a special web address to your profile that is followed by a ridiculous set of numerals. You can easily customize your URL with your name or brand. Simply find “edit-link” and choose a more personalized address that is simple and clear. (Ex-linked.com/wordsmithjohndoe)

· Add a headshot: this should be a photo taken professionally or in a professional manner. It’s best to leave the selfie sticks behind for this shot. Flash some personality in a crisp and clean photo. If your current company has taken photos, be sure that all the employees post them for consistency.

· Custom banner/header: LinkedIn allows for some visual customization. Use the real estate at the top of your profile for a company logo, professional photography, slogan or anything else that lends itself to defining your brand.

· Write a personalized tagline: this is the line that will go directly under your name. Be short and sweet to establish clarity when people go to investigate.  Answer these essential questions: “who, what, where?”

· Describe you: The description section will come after the necessary information. This is a great time to explore more details about yourself. Make it a little more personalized. What do you enjoy? How do you operate? It should be semi-short and all encapsulating. Define what you do, where you received your education, summaries of past positions and how you’ve grown into your current position.

· Add sections: This is a CV style list that further defines you and allows people to search in categories. Experience, Education, Volunteering, and Causes are each sections that LinkedIn lets you easily input new information.

· Add skills and increase SEO (search engine optimization): Adding skills makes it much easier to target specific capabilities. When adding skills, LinkedIn chooses keywords thatboosts optimization- all you have to do is select those that apply. If you are a designer, for example, you might include skills such as “graphic design, concept development, typesetting and marketing.” Don’t be shy when selecting skills- as long as they are honest and well-practiced.

Building your network

Now that you’ve gotten all dressed up, it’s time to go out. The power in marketing comes with social networking; you need to have and grow networks to use them later. Start by taking five minutes a week dedicated to expanding your network. In a month’s time, you’ll notice significantly much more traffic coming and going from your profile.

· Add connections: You can begin this process by reintroducing yourself to people you already know. Search by name, company and universities. You can add friends, teachers, colleagues or acquaintances. Then start expanding by adding members in your community, other company leaders and employees or try connecting with large names and influencers. Try adding five new people a week to your professional circle, and you’ll see your network grow.

· Ask for endorsements: Endorsements give your skills credibility. When people endorse you for a skill that you’ve previously entered when creating your profile, it shows that others acknowledge or have experienced this skill in action, therefore saying to the outside world that you are honest and legitimate.

· Ask for recommendations: Much like endorsements, this is a way for others to further back your capabilities. Recommendations are an in-depth testimonial of how your work has directly benefited another. Your mom or grandmother’s recommendations, unfortunately, don’t count. It’s best to ask people who’ve you connected with for an extended period of time or worked closely. Past professors, a client or customer or a business partner make excellent resources.

· Don’t forget to extend the courtesy to others. By endorsing others and giving them recommendations, you are putting your face out there as someone who takes interest in other companies and can appreciate and give credit to hard work.

Tapping into the professional world

Your profile is at All-Star status, and your networks are growing. You’re now at the stage where you can start engaging confidently with the digital world. There are numerous possibilities to get yourself out there depending on your intentions and who you ultimately want to get in front of. By being an active member, you are constantly bringing in new professionals and keeping your face relevant and widespread.

· Like and Share content: If you like an article that a fellow member in your network has posted you can like or share the article on your own profile. Other’s posts are filled with rich new information and up-to-date stories. Stay inspired and educated by taking the time to read other’s information.

· Post a status: This allows you to drop a line for your network to see. Maybe you can update them on your new partnership you landed overseas or can drop in to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. It is a prime area where you can give personality to your page by being yourself and allowing people to be involved in parts of your life.

· Join a group: There is nearly a group for everything on LinkedIn. Join up with an alumni group made by your class at university or join a group related to your industry. Increase your networks and visibility by contributing to group discussions. If the groups are local in the area, there may even be potential for meeting up during networking activities and events. It’s a great way to pick expert’s brains and meet other people within your industry.

· Create a group: None of the groups fit the mold of what you’re looking for? No problem! Create your own group. This in itself will give you some experience in administrating and maintaining a group or forum. You’ll be able to be the face of a group which could potentially land you in front of inspiring influencers. You can curate content that you want to hear and get to know other members on a more personal level.

· Publish blogs: There’s nothing like making a mark on the web than writing and sharing your thoughts. If you have knowledge you’d like to share, blogging on LinkedIn is a great place to share your resources and gain insight on topics through constructive feedback. Your network will already be a combination of like-minded individuals, people in your industry and those who just like to bite at new information, so you are bound to find an audience with which your blogs will resonate. Blogging enables you to share your expertise while inviting conversation and new traffic.

Now that you’re a big fish don’t forget that you will only grow as large as the size of your environment. Maintain and update your profile on a regular basis, contribute to groups, add new connections, engage with your connections by sending them personalized messages, share content and have fun with it!