Online business networking is a great way to widen your network beyond your own immediate circle. You can use it to raise your profile, reach potential customers, build relationships with PR influencers and solve business problems. LinkedIn, one of the most widely used professional networking sites can help you meet relevant people, generate leads, keep up with trends and promote your business. Unlike social networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook, LinkedIn is geared to the business user.

Here are some tips to help you get started.

Unique profiles. Every LinkedIn user gets a profile page, where you can list your work experience, academic qualifications, interests, affiliations as well as display recommendations from other LinkedIn members you know. It is important to make the profile detailed as well as unique, especially the ’summary’ at the top, which is what most people read. LinkedIn profiles often come up at the top of search results, making it important to have a profile that generates interest and says something about the specific skills and abilities you bring.

Participate in the Q&A. LinkedIn Q&A is divided into categories such as Marketing & Sales, Professional Development, Technology, Personal Finance, etc. Members answer questions on topics of interest to them, earning “expert” status for ‘best answers.’ Posing a question here helps you get a wide range of opinions while answering questions helps you meet newer people and participate in industry discussions.

Network purposefully. Business networking should have a purpose to it, whether it is to generate leads, keep up with trends, see what the competition is doing or meet people at your new workplace. Through your existing contacts as well as by participating on forums and Q&A, you can use LinkedIn to widen your network purposefully.

LinkedIn groups. LinkedIn groups revolve around common work or other interests. Not all groups are equally active, but the more active ones in your area of interest can be a good place to watch industry trends or keep track of competition. For example, check out the HP Business Answers group on LinkedIn. Recruit. LinkedIn Jobs can also be used to recruit in a highly focused manner or find resources for projects that need highly specialized skills. Even if you don’t post an ad on the Jobs section, you could still use your network on LinkedIn to identify talent (or search for a job!

Promote your business. By providing updates on your business or forming a business group for those interested in industry news, you can use LinkedIn to promote your business.