Joanna Wiseberg began Red Scarf Equestrian, which makes stylish handbags and other luxury goods for horse lovers, two years ago, just as the economy plunged into recession. Nevertheless, Wiseberg was soon meeting people who invited her to showcase her goods at elite places such as the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix. Now, she says, Red Scarf Equestrian, based in Toronto, is poised to take off. “My business is a niche within a niche, and I opened at the worst possible time," Wiseberg says. “You try and push a ball uphill."

Getting connected: Joanna Wiseberg of Red Scarf Equestrian. NYT

For any company in the social networking business, it is not easy living in the shadow of Facebook and Twitter. But with its unabashed utilitarian bent, LinkedIn has built a presence in social media. Anyone with a career, a business or ambitions to climb the corporate ladder can network with 75 million people who use it, in large part, to find jobs or recruit candidates. But in the past year or so, LinkedIn has been offering plenty of information and tools to help its users, whether they work for themselves or a company, to conduct research, find new customers and expand their business.

For the LinkedIn novice, the first step is to create a profile, which is much like putting together a résumé listing education, professional experience and skills. But the online profile is different from a printed résumé. Putting more content, rather than less, will make your profile more likely to come up in searches. Change the privacy settings to be as open as possible; if you are looking for work, you want strangers to find you.

Next, it is good to have other people vouch for you. A little logrolling never hurts. Recommend people you know as they may be more inclined to return the favour. Then network as if LinkedIn were a big industry trade show. Search for people you know and invite them to be part of your network. Regular users of LinkedIn say a common mistake newcomers make is to limit their network. So how many is enough?

There are no absolutes, but Krista Canfield, a LinkedIn spokeswoman, says 35 connections appears to be the minimum to make the viral properties of social networks truly useful.

Once you’ve gone this far, it is easy to look for jobs using the company’s search tools. But there are plenty of other ways to use it to help your job search or other business aspirations. Perhaps the most useful places to look are the one million or so company pages LinkedIn has compiled. The pages will reveal the names of people who were recently hired or left the company, as well as those who have changed positions within the company.

Not only will you be able to pinpoint the right person, you will be able to see all the people who are in your network—your direct connections and their connections—who are somehow affiliated with that right person inside a company.

If you have your eyes set on a particular company, it is a good idea to “follow" their LinkedIn page. Just like when you follow friends or businesses on Facebook or Twitter, you will receive updates in your news feed. They will include company news and job postings, but also updates when people get hired, leave or move up. But anyone who is trying to use LinkedIn effectively will want to do more than just snoop around. Being active on the site can help you get noticed by other people. Status updates work much like those on Facebook or Twitter, although telling your professional contacts that you just stopped in at Starbucks is probably not useful. Joe Rosenberg, a certified public accountant in Florham Park, New Jersey, US, says he recently used a status update to alert people that the deadline for self-employed people to file estimated quarterly tax payments was coming up. “People noticed it," Rosenberg says. “It could be a reminder to people to call you."

Wiseberg took a similar approach to get Red Scarf Equestrian off the ground. She had been on LinkedIn for several years but had never really learnt how to use the site. When she started the business, she began joining groups related to her field and participating in discussions on them. She is now a member in more than a dozen groups, including Luxury and Lifestyle Professionals. It is through these affiliations that the industry discovered her and began inviting her to events in Europe, North America and Asia.“I had to go global, because the market in Canada is too small," Wiseberg said. “I’m getting there."


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