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The elevator with birch, a reflection of Canadiana at the Linkedin offices in Toronto on Feb 25, 2015. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

LinkedIn is expanding fast. The networking site recently submitted a proposal to city officials in California for the development of several new buildings. This newly proposed space could hold up to 4,000 employees, which is a significant jump considering that LinkedIn currently employs about 5,000 people. The company has grown so quickly because they've revolutionized the way employees find jobs and the way businesses network online. At the same time, they have cleverly monetized user data by giving recruiters access – for a price.

But the best thing about LinkedIn's success is that you don't have to enjoy it from the sidelines. You can participate in the growth of this professional network and use it as a platform to generate leads and sales for your own business. To help you get started, I researched the best marketing practices on LinkedIn. Here's what I found to produce the best results:

Answer Targeted Questions in LinkedIn Groups

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One of the best ways to take advantage of the marketing power of LinkedIn is to join relevant Groups. There are currently over 2.1 million groups on LinkedIn, and that means there's a LinkedIn group relevant to virtually every industry or profession.

When looking for LinkedIn groups, target those most likely to be frequented by your prospective customers while also looking for groups with active members. Look not just at how many people are posting in the group, but also the amount of discussion the posts are producing.

Once you've selected a few groups to join, the next step is to look for questions you can answer. Aim to leave the most detailed, useful answers possible. When you deliver value in the answer as an expert, prospects will often visit your profile to learn more about who you are and what you do. This can lead to a dialogue about how your products and services could help them. The more expertise you can offer, the more authority and trust you will gain.

Make Use of InMail

One of LinkedIn's standout marketing features is InMail. InMail allows you to send a direct message to any user on LinkedIn, regardless of whether or not you are directly connected to them.

Imagine that you've been trying to meet a prospect but can't get past the gatekeeper; this feature opens up a new line of direct communication. According to LinkedIn, it's a strategy that's pretty successful, as InMail is 30 times more likely to get a responsethan making a cold call.

LinkedIn also guarantees that if you don't receive a response within seven days, you will receive a free InMail credit. The downside of using InMail is that you have to pay for the privilege, as it's only available on paid accounts. The basic business account is allocated three InMails a month, and this number goes up to 25 for an executive account.

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Locate Prospects Using Advanced Search

LinkedIn has a lot of information about their users. Take advantage of this by making intelligent use of their advanced search filters. With their advanced search, you can look for people by name, location, company and school.

If you have a paid account, you will also have access to an even more in-depth search filter – including seniority level, company size and function. Using filters allows you to quickly identify relevant prospects. If you aren't able to connect with them directly, you can try joining the same groups, which will give you another avenue to open up communication.

Try LinkedIn Sponsored Updates

In 2013, LinkedIn introduced sponsored updates. Sponsored posts allow you to publish content to other users' LinkedIn feeds, even if they aren't following your company page.

The results are promising. An early case study for sponsored updates was the software company Adobe. After being exposed to Adobe's updates, "decision makers were 79 per cent more likely to agree that, 'Adobe can help me optimize my media spend.'"

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This service-advertising platform allows you to target who will see your updates by job position, company, seniority and location. It also allows for rich media; infographics, videos and presentations can all be sent as sponsored updates. This makes it a very useful tool for distributing branded content to a wider audience.

LinkedIn recently crossed the 300 million user mark, and with expansion plans on the horizon, it looks like there will be little to stop this business networking behemoth. So maybe it's time to hitch your wagon to the LinkedIn train.

Charles E. Gaudet II is a leading marketing consultant and speaker providing advanced marketing strategies to small business owners. He's the author of " The Predictable Profits Playbook." His advice appears in worldwide media including Forbes, Inc. and Fox Business. Follow him on Twitter @CharlesGaudet or at his blog at http://www.PredictableProfits.com.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

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