Are we there yet?  Have we reached the point where LinkedIn has become so powerful, and so well-established in the business world, that we should now rely on it to serve as our complete “network management system” of choice?

Up until recently, this wasn’t really an option, since LinkedIn didn’t have the built-in features that one really needs to conduct power networking — namely, the ability to take detailed notes on the people you interact with, to categorize them in various ways, and to integrate various scheduling and follow-up activities directly into your calendar.  With the release of the brand-new “Contacts” page functionality on the system a few months back, however, we’re now awfully close to the point where using any other system to track one’s professional relationships just doesn’t make much sense.

For those who haven’t explored the power of these new capabilites yet, you’ll find them on the Network, Contacts page of LinkedIn once you log in.  Most users of LinkedIn (both free and paid) have already been updated to this new framework, but if you open this page and don’t see any of the stuff I’ve described, below, you may have to manually tell the system you’d like to upgrade — which you can do by visiting the link here and clicking the “Get Started” button.

Once you get this new functionality enabled, however, you’ll be able to do things like:

•  Go to the profile of any of your connections, scroll down to the “Relationship” tab under their photo, and take notes (which are automatically date-stamped) of any recent interactions you’ve had with them.  For example, job hunters can use this feature to keep running notes on their networking conversations with a specific individual, to record their attempts to contact a specific recruiter, or to capture the details of how an interview went with a given hiring manager

•  In the same Relationship section of a person’s profile, there’s also a section prompting you to track “how you met them” (an important thing to know when you’re out meeting with lots of people each week) and also to set a “reminder” to follow up with them in a day, a week, a month, or on a recurring basis.  This last feature can be very useful in ensuring you maintain a high enough frequency of contact to build a healthy relationship with a new acquaintance — or to remind you about a next step you’ve committed to doing with the person, such as sending them some materials or setting up the next outing.

•  Next, if you go a little farther to the right on the same tab, you’ll see a “tag” feature that is much more useful than might initially meet the eye.  This feature allows you to set up your own list of appropriate relationship categories (e.g. recruiters, friends, co-workers, alumni, association members, etc.) and then assign your connections to one or more of these categories for convenience, going forward.  For example, I’m working with one client who is seeking to build a fresh set of relationships with recruiters and venture capitalists in both Seattle and the Bay Area, so we’ve set up tags for all four of these areas (e.g. Recruiters-Seattle, Recruiters-Bay, VC-Seattle, VC-Bay) and then quickly assign anybody our research turns up into the appropriate category, so we can easily manage and track them by group.

Want to take things even further?  If you happen to use an external contact management or calendaring system such as Gmail, Outlook, or iPhone Contacts you can go into the “settings” menu of the Network, Contacts page and allow it to import and synchronize your contacts/calendar between the two systems.  Personally, I haven’t experimented with this feature much since I’ve built my own proprietary contact management system in MS Access — which isn’t able to integrate into the site — but for those of you who rely heavily on a mobile device for planning your day, or a common tool such as Gmail or Yahoo, this feature could be pretty useful once you get the hang of it.

So there you have it.  While in years past, we all had to look people up on LinkedIn and then manually transfer any details or notes over to another system, for safe-keeping, we’ve now reached the point where LinkedIn is attempting to become the all-in-one solution for managing your professional network.  And given how helpful it is instantly have a person’s photo and full professional background at your fingertips, when conducting all of the relationship-based activities involved in a modern job search — or when conducting business, in general — it’s hard to argue against using these new features to their fullest capacity!