For years, LinkedIn has just been an online placeholder for my résumé. I didn’t really think about it much and rarely went on there.

However, two things recently happened to change my view of the site.

The first was when my news director assigned me to do an investigation into privacy concerns regarding drones and Ohio leaders’ efforts to snag one of the nation’s coveted slots for a drone testing program.

Although GE’s jet engine subsidiary is headquartered in Cincinnati, aerospace is not something that gets a lot of coverage in my market. So when it came to looking for sources in the drone industry (its executives prefer to call them “unmanned aerial vehicles”), I was starting from zero. One day, I thought, “I wonder if I can find someone to interview by searching LinkedIn?”

Within seconds, I found an executive at TechSolve, a company that does consulting for the aerospace industry. I e-mailed her asking if someone there was doing any work on drones. She said her CEO would love to do an interview. It turns out, he’s one of the major players behind-the-scenes who’s trying to bring a drone-testing program here.

The other thing that made me start respecting LinkedIn more was a conversation with software developer Dave Hatter.

We were doing an on-camera show-and-tell one day for my morning show consumer segment and he had LinkedIn up on his laptop. I couldn’t believe how he was going on and on about it. So I asked him why he likes it so much. He showed me how LinkedIn isn’t just for your résumé anymore. He calls it a very powerful search engine for finding people and connecting with them. He even lands clients and speaking gigs this way.

“One of the key facets I think most people really overlook is the incredible power of the search engine in LinkedIn,” is how he put it to me recently when I asked him to do an entire segment with me about how LinkedIn can help those who are still unemployed find work.

The thing is, his insights are also great for broadcast journalists looking to make connections to move up the market ladder or, as I demonstrated through dumb luck, finding a great source for a story.

The key, he says, is using what LinkedIn calls its “Advanced People Search.”

For instance, in trying to find someone to interview in the aerospace industry, you could type “aerospace” into the keyword box and your station’s zip code in another box further down the left-hand side of the page.

I just re-enacted my search as I’m writing this. The executive I found earlier came up again. And I just discovered that if you click “similar” below her name, other aerospace industry executives and workers come up on another page. This will be really helpful when you get that dreaded “I’m on vacation” out-of-office reply from your first contact.

But say you’re not working on a story. You’re trying to build your personal brand. Hatter uses LinkedIn for that, too.

“There are over a million groups on LinkedIn,” he said. “Some groups have literally hundreds of thousands of members in them. By joining the group, you now have opt-in permission to share with that group.”

Don’t spam them, he warns. Instead, pass along articles or video links that would appeal to other broadcast journalists or television executives.

Hatter says LinkedIn limits you to 50 groups. That’s probably more than enough for most of us, though there are some LinkedIn power users who sound pretty upset about the cap.

You also want to post on your home page on LinkedIn. If you haven’t been to your account in a while, log-in and take a look. LinkedIn has basically created a professional version of Facebook. After getting Hatter’s advice, I try to post at least once a day on there and allow LinkedIn to send the message to my Twitter followers, too.

Finally, be careful with the recommendations you give others — and especially the recommendations you choose to publish on your profile.

Hatter is also a hiring manager and says it takes an authentic, from-the-heart recommendation on a candidate’s LinkedIn profile to make him take it seriously.

“If I go in and I give you a recommendation, you are going to show-up in front of my entire network as a recommendation from Dave,” he said. “Everyone in your network is going to see that I recommended you. But if I say something like, ‘Matt is an awesome guy,’ does that really carry any weight? And I think a lot of recommendations are pretty shallow and pretty hollow like that.”

Hatter also explains, in an extended clip we put on our station’s website, how to jazz-up your “headline” and profile info to stand-out from the crowd. The headline is really important because it’s what hiring managers see first in their search results, along with your profile photo. And please have a profile photo! I can’t believe how many people in broadcasting don’t put their photo up on LinkedIn.

Hatter told me having no photo is a quick way to get overlooked when a television executive is doing her own “advanced people search” in an effort to fill a job quickly.

In such a competitive industry, we need all the help we can get. So why not put more effort into LinkedIn? After all, it’s free. (Hatter advises against paying for the premium version.)

You can bet the other 90 TV anchor/reporters in America who look just like you will be using LinkedIn. So you’d better, too.

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You can connect with Matthew Nordin on LinkedIn and Twitter. He’s an investigative reporter at WXIX-TV in Cincinnati.  And if you want to learn more about how to use this site, check out the group LinkedIn for Journalists (http://www.linkedin.com/groups/LinkedIn-Journalists-3753151), which offers free tutorials.

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