LinkedIn is often thought of as a social media site for professionals. People use the site to conduct business and make the professional connections necessary to further their careers and businesses. It is also a great way to build leads in real estate.

However, LinkedIn is not at all like other social media sites, and there are rules you must follow for lead generation. Before we get into those rules, it is important to understand that LinkedIn is very specific about what can be done with information found on its site. Please be sure to read its privacy and usage guidelines so you don’t get yourself into trouble!

I had been a member of LinkedIn since 2007, well before I decided to become a real estate agent. In fact, I believe I was one of the first users of the site. (I most certainly was among the first million users.) I already had more than 400 connections before I began using LinkedIn for lead generation. My connections now stand at around 900.

One of the fantastic aspects of LinkedIn lead generation is that it really does introduce you to different segments of your community. You can build connections with people of every nationality, ethnic group or socioeconomic status. It is a wonderful way to build your internal network.

What rules do I live by when using LinkedIn lead generation? Here are the five most crucial — although I am sure people can add to this list.

1. Add at least three connections daily. When LinkedIn first came on the scene, it was a Web-only site, so connecting up with individuals could be labor-intensive and require more steps than really were necessary to meet people on the site. Since the site launched its various smartphone apps, things have gotten much easier. I use my LinkedIn iPhone app to scroll through the connections my network is making. I look for people matching one of three conditions: they own their own businesses, they have been members of the community for an extended period of time, or they are involved in real estate in some fashion. Most of the connection requests I make are local to my area, but I will reach out to people from around the world. I feel it is important not to limit myself to my immediate area.

2. Send an immediate “welcome” and “thank you” email to your new connections. As soon as you connect with someone, send them an email or LinkedIn message thanking them. I usually offer to answer real estate questions for them, and I make sure to ask if there is anything I can do for them. (If you are not sure where to find their email, it is located in the contact information tab at the top of their profile. The other tab in that block is “relationship,” and it is the active one by default.)

I must stress that farming email addresses from your LinkedIn network is against the rules, so don’t do it!

3. Send birthday wishes, job anniversary congratulations, etc. LinkedIn makes it so easy to keep in touch with your network. You can use a phone app called “LinkedIn Connect” that alerts you when someone in your network is celebrating something. I usually send out my best wishes to people while I am waiting for my kids to get ready for school. It is so easy to do. The app will tell you that you have “five connects to make today,” and then you can swipe through the list on the app simply by sending congrats with a touch of a button.

Here is one tidbit that I didn’t figure out right away: If you click on your connection’s picture in the app, you get a full workup of who they are and what they are celebrating that day. You can even write notes in the app to remind you of something that you need to know the next time you interact with that connection.

4. Blog and share. LinkedIn now invites certain members to blog on its site, thus providing another way to connect to members of your network. LinkedIn Pulse is the site’s attempt to bring the content game to its ranks. I, however, have mixed feelings about the content I read on it: Sometimes the content is great, but at other times I wonder if LinkedIn would benefit from putting together some editorial guidelines.

If you are not invited to be a blogger, you can still blog on your own website and then send the update to your LinkedIn account to share with your network. I do this at least twice a week and find it helps me stay fresh in the minds of my professional real estate connections.

If you don’t have your own blog, create one. It is not difficult to do; software is cheap or free, and it pays dividends down the road.

5. Never ignore a LinkedIn message or request to connect. I always look at the requests made to me through LinkedIn. The request almost always is legitimate and I will answer it. Most of the time, it is someone like me who wishes to make a connection, expand his or her career options, or increase their business. Since I am doing that very thing myself, I am never rude to anyone and make sure they know how much I appreciate them reaching out.

I have received several good leads from responding to communications on LinkedIn. One time, I did accept a request that I later regretted. It was a scam, but LinkedIn responded to my complaints and the person was removed from the site for abusing the usage guidelines.

LinkedIn has been a true blessing to me on a professional level by allowing me to meet people I would not otherwise have met. As we all know, it is not what you know that sells houses, but who you know. Happy LinkedIn lead generation!

Adam Wright is a Realtor specializing in Texas’ Denton and Tarrant counties with Keller Williams.

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