Consider this “professional peer pressure,” if you want, but come on… all the cool kids are doing it.

LinkedIn is typically recognized as the go-to place for online business networking. Since its IPO in May of 2011, LinkedIn has experienced wild growth in both volume of unique visitors as well as in the amount of time spent on the social networking site.

You may be thinking to yourself “Ok, I have a LinkedIn profile… what of it?”

If you are, good! I’m glad you have a LinkedIn profile. (If you don’t, stop reading this and go create one. Think of it as an online resume and business card… And do it for posterity, if nothing else.)

Unfortunately, simply having a profile isn’t going to benefit you or increase your online business networking opportunities. It’s how you use your LinkedIn account that makes the difference.

First, make sure you’ve fleshed out your profile.

Include your professional experience – not just the company at which you are currently employed, but past employers as well. Update your educational experience, and use the LinkedIn format to list your skill set. Then, connect with people you know.

Now, take it a step further and “follow the crowd.” Find relevant Groups and join them!

So many people stop after creating their profile, or just connect with a few friends and colleagues. This does you no favors and doesn’t significantly increase the size of your network.  LinkedIn Groups, however, are a powerful way to connect with other people in your industry, dialogue with potential business partners, clients or vendors and promote your personal brand.

Unsure of where to start? Here is a quick list of possibilities:

Your college or university – general alumni group, location-based alumni group, sorority or fraternity groups

Groups in your local community – Chamber of Commerce, Philanthropy organizations, economic development office, Convention and Visitors Bureau

Professional groups – trade organizations, industry specific groups, relevant associations

Once you’ve joined those groups, interact. Recently, in one of the groups I’m a part of (BtoB Magazine) a member posed the question, “ What is the best marketing advice you’ve ever received?”

Now, this group has more than 5,000 members who range from senior marketing managers to business owners, so the conversation that followed was hugely insightful. It didn’t just start a helpful conversation about marketing, however, it provided an opportunity to start one-on-on conversations with successful professionals I may not have ever met otherwise.

So what is the takeaway for you? Follow the crowd!

Get involved in LinkedIn groups that will help you grow professionally and help your business grow, and then join in the conversation!

What is your experience with LinkedIn Groups? Have you ever commented in the open discussion forum?