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Vision Critical recently released a wealth of insights into social media usage through our white paper, From Social to Sale, which exposed the role of Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter in driving consumer purchasing. But there is another crucial social network that businesses need to understand: LinkedIn.

LinkedIn has been much on my mind recently, thanks to the conversation that's emerged around my blog post for the Harvard Business Review and the ebook from which it sprang. For today's professionals, it's an essential toolÛ_but one that is frequently misunderstood as a rÌ©sumÌ© warehouse or recruitment site.

In fact, LinkedIn is woven into an ever-greater number of business conversations and networks. That's why we wanted to share some of the facts about LinkedIn that emerged from one of the surveys we conducted as part of our From Social to Sale study. (All numbers come from a February survey of 779 American Internet users.)

Here are 5 of the most interesting facts about LinkedIn usage - along with their implications for your career, your business and your industry:

  1. LinkedIn and Twitter membership is roughly comparable
    About 26% of American Internet users report using LinkedIn - the same number that report using Twitter. While this is far behind Facebook (89%) and YouTube (54%), it's still substantially ahead of Pinterest (18%), Google+ (18%) and Instagram (10%). But there's only limited overlap between the 26% who use Twitter and the 26% who use LinkedIn; only 40% of LinkedIn and Twitter users report using both networks. To reach professionals through social media, you need to combine both Twitter and LinkedIn.
  2. Men are much more likely to use LInkedIn
    32% of men use LinkedIn, compared to only 21% of women. That gender gap is comparable to the gap on Twitter (used by 32% of men, but only 22% of women) and YouTube (63% of men, 48% of women). Facebook use, by comparison, has virtually no gender gap, while Pinterest is much more widely used among women (26% of women, and only 7% of men). If Sheryl Sandberg wants women to lean in, she should ask them to link in.
  3. LinkedIn usage is highest at mid-career
    For many years, I described LinkedIn as "Facebook for grownups"; while grownups now use Facebook, too, LinkedIn remains somewhat older that many social networks. Internet users 35-54 are most likely to use LinkedIn: 30% use the network, compared with just 24% of 18-34s and 21% of those 55 and up. This generation effect is distinct from the pattern from most other social networks: while 18-34s and 35-54s use Facebook at roughly the same rate, most networks are more widely-used among those 18-34 than among those 34-54. That generation effect is most pronounced on Tumblr (an 11% gap between the age groups), YouTube (16% gap), Twitter (18% gap) and Instagram (20%). The good news: you don't have to worry about being too old to understand LinkedIn.
  4. LinkedIn is for 9-to-5, not 5-to-9
    Not surprisingly, LinkedIn has an exceptionally focused use case. While Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are used for topics ranging from sports to beauty to celebrity news, LinkedIn users make significant use of LinkedIn for only two types of topic: industry and professional news. 47% of LinkedIn users visit the site for industry and professional news (compared to 25% of Facebook users who make similar use of Facebook, and 17% of Twitter users) and for finance and investment news (11% of LinkedIn users, 14% of Facebook users, and 21% of Twitter users). There is no point in sharing anything other than industry and professional news on LinkedIn.
  5. Most people use LInkedIn infrequently
    Only 23% of LInkedIn users make daily use of the site (compared to 42% of Twitter users who make daily use of Twitter, and 68% of Facebook users who make daily use of Facebook.) Almost 28% use the site at least once a week (but less than daily), and 50% use the site less than once a week. If you're looking for same-day responses, you can't rely on reaching people through LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is a crucial and growing network: compare the 26% of American Internet users who report using LinkedIn with the 21% who report using it in a 2012 study we conducted. Whether or not that rate of growth continues, a quarter of Internet users is too large a chunk to ignore. Developing a LinkedIn strategy - one that is keyed to the major goals of your business - is an indispensable part of your social media strategy today.

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