Life is so unfair. Just because they're shinier, Twitter and Facebook often scoop up the attention for being social networking powerhouses. And they are! However, if you're a small business owner, you also need to be paying attention to LinkedIn. Over the past few years, LinkedIn has proven itself to be a legitimate business tool for many, helping SMB owners to develop and nurture targeted opportunities. And if the numbers of "friend requests" in my inbox are any indication, the strength of the site isn't decreasing. In fact, it's growing. There are lots of opportunities for SMB owners to leverage LinkedIn to build traffic, branding, authority and even their real life Rolodex. Here are a few of my favorite ways to use and create opportunities with the site. Establishing Expertise: Unlike some of the other social networks, LinkedIn lets you establish credibility solely as a professional in your field. By filling out your profile, listing your affiliations, displaying references, participating in Groups and answering questions through the Q&A, you time and time again brand yourself as someone who knows their stuff. By being consistent, you establish yourself as the "go-to" person for that subject area. It's great for personal branding, but it also puts you in their top of mind the next time they need someone in your field. Its hard to get that qualified branding anywhere else. Share Content: There are lots of ways to share content via LinkedIn, but you need to be sure to do it in a way that adds to whatever discussion you're part of. There's very little tolerance (read: none) for business owners who come in self-promoting or trying to sell to other members. However, SMB owners can share content by including links in their status updates, linking to relevant posts during Group discussions or while answering LinkedIn Questions. You can also share and organize content by taking advantage of some of the Widgets that LinkedIn allows members to use on their profiles, like the ones from WordPress and SlideShare. It's worth remembering that people looking for content on LinkedIn, are actually interested in it. They're not talking about what they had for lunch or casually passing by. They're there for a reason. Do Some Market Research: If you don't mind the occasional sales pitch, the LinkedIn Answers area offers SMB owners a fairly cost effective way to get some knowledge transfer, talk out ideas, and even hold mini focus groups! In the past, I've watched SMB owners collect market research, demo new sites/tools, ask for advice on how to do something more cost effectively, and just throw out early stage product questions. Because everyone on the site is business oriented, most are very willing to help one another out (especially if helps them look like the expert in the group). Keep Top of Mind: By strategically updating your LinkedIn status (similar to a Facebook status) you're able to link out to upcoming events, blog post, podcasts or even just your site. It helps you keep your name and your business on top of mind for all of your contacts. A lot of folks update their LinkedIn profile once and then just leave it to collect dust. People who invest in the site and continually update it with fresh content stand out. Get Easy Introductions: LinkedIn offers SMB owners a great opportunity to meet people relevant to them with their powerful search options. Business owners can search by profession, geographic area, associations and even interest to locate new contacts. One thing I really like about LinkedIn is that it also makes introductions easy once you do find someone.\u00a0 LinkedIn will tell you how far Person X is outside of your network and WHO in your network is connected to them. That means if I want Anita Campbell to be my friend on LinkedIn (Hi Anita!), I just have to go to her profile and I can visually see what connections we share. Then, I can send my friend a message to facilitate an introduction. I've used the "get introduced through a connection" feature quite a bit to get in contact different editors and writers. People are much more likely to trust you when you come with an endorsement from someone they already trust. Which is the whole point of LinkedIn. Network with Linkedin Groups: LinkedIn Groups are another great way to network because they give you a chance to get into real conversations with other professionals. By adding value and responding to other people, you again help to build your own authority and branding. Provide someone with information they can use, and you'll likely also increase traffic back to your own site or blog when they try to learn more about you. Building traffic by being helpful is awesome. How are you using LinkedIn? What successes have you seen?