10 ways reporters can use LinkedIn to find sources, track changes at companies

The business networking site LinkedIn is more than just a place to find your next job. It’s a powerful and often underused resource for finding news sources and story ideas.

LinkedIn now has more than 100 million members and is gaining more than than one new member every second, said Krista Canfield, LinkedIn’s senior manager of corporate communications and an evangelist to working journalists.

Reporters can find sources and leads through status updates, employee transitions and data that LinkedIn aggregates and analyzes. “There’s a wide variety of different types of professionals that are on the site. which makes it a wonderful resource for journalists,” Canfield said.

Between my own use of LinkedIn and Canfield’s advice, I’ve identified 10 key ways a journalist can do better reporting by using LinkedIn.

Search status updates

One reporting tool is the “signal” search. It enables you to search all the public status updates posted by LinkedIn members. While some are posted directly to LinkedIn, many are imported from users’ Twitter accounts. That makes this tool a proxy to filter Twitter by company, job title or other business roles in ways Twitter’s own search tool cannot.

Reporters could use this in at least two ways.

See what a company’s employees are saying. Filter your signal search by a specific employer to see what the staff is talking about. This could be especially useful if the company has made news that employees may be reacting to. Or you could see what employees of a competing company are saying about another company’s product launch.
(For instance, to see what Google employees are saying about Google, search for the keyword “Google.” When the initial results come up, filter them by selecting the “3rd + Everyone” box under “Network” and typing “Google” or choosing it from the choices in the “Company” section.)

See what people in your town are saying. Localize a national business story by filtering your signal search by location.

Do targeted searches for individuals or types of employees

LinkedIn can also be used to find experts and other sources on short notice. Using the advanced people search, you can sort through all the service’s members.

LinkedIn’s advanced people search has many fields to search by.

Find a specific person. Search for someone’s name to find out where she works. Search for a job title and a company to find out who holds that position. Or search for a person and a company to find out his job title. You can use any combination of names, job titles, companies, keywords, locations and more to find the person you’re looking for.

Find all employees of a company. Search the company name and see all the results. Contact the people who are relevant to your reporting.

Find former employees. People who used to work for a company may be more willing to talk to reporters than current employees. LinkedIn makes it easy to find former employees. Search for a company name, then select the “past, not current” employment option beneath.

Be alerted when employees leave or join. With a paid LinkedIn account (starting at about $20 a month), you can save a search and receive email updates on any changes. Save your search for current or former employees of a company and LinkedIn will notify you whenever there’s a change.

Find experts to interview. Do an advanced search by job title to find qualified experts. Or use the new skills search to find people who list certain skills on their profile. This can be a huge help in finding qualified sources on niche topics. (Here are some top experts in educational psychology, for example.)

Keep on top of changes within companies

You can use LinkedIn’s company pages to stay up-to-date on companies on your beat. Company pages aggregate information from all LinkedIn members who are employees of a particular firm.

Track hiring trends. The company page shows job postings. You might learn about a new strategic initiative by seeing what types of jobs the company is adding.

LinkedIn’s company statistics page for Twitter shows its employees are most likely to have come from Google or Yahoo.

Get quick company backgrounds. On any company page, click the link on the right side that says “Check out insightful statistics…” Here you’ll see breakdowns of the job functions, years of experience, and educational backgrounds of employees, all with comparisons to industry averages. This can help you understand a company you haven’t dealt with before.

See where employees tend to come from, and leave to. On the right side of that same company statistics page, you’ll see lists of the most common companies that current employees came from, and the employers they leave for most often. You may find a trend story about who is poaching a company’s employees.

If you’ve found this useful, you can learn more and keep up with the latest changes on LinkedIn in a few ways. Follow the official blog and press center, test out beta features on LinkedIn Labs, or join the LinkedIn for Journalists group for more tips and advice.

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