While many public companies in the Internet space have underperformed in 2012--Facebook, we're looking at you--LinkedIn is an exception. Just last week, the business networking firm reported $228M in revenue during the second quarter, an 89 percent increase  compared to the same time period last year. Aside from pulling in advertising dollars, LinkedIn also relies heavily on its subscription model to reach its financial goals (these monthly fees made up 19 perfect of total revenue in Q2).It can be difficult to untangle all the benefits you get when paying for these premium services, especially when most social media users are accustomed to free platform access. But when you dig deep into what LinkedIn has to offer, it's clear that these features are invaluable to many categories of business professionals, from job seekers to sales executives, from recruiters to entrepreneurs. If you're serious about relationships--purely in a professional manner--there is something for everyone at each membership level (although LinkedIn doesn't refer to this access as a membership, it's easier to explain from this perspective).
Figuring out which upgrade makes the most sense for you is perhaps the biggest challenge before you can reap important networking benefits.
Here's the simple way to look at the Premium offerings. There are four different categories of membership:
• (Business) business professionals
• (Talent) recruiters,
• (Job Seeker) job seekers
• (Sales) sales professionals
If you're not recruiting, looking for a job, or selling something, chances are that the Business category is a good fit (as an entrepreneur, I am currently a Business member). Within each membership category there are different upgrade levels. For example, within a Business Premium account you can pay for basic Business ($24.95/mth), Business Plus ($49.95/mth), or Executive ($99.95/mth) access.
Although the options are a little daunting across these four categories, what you're really getting when you pay is access to a bunch of features, including these three killer networking tools. The more you pay, the more access (results, stats, InMails) you get.
1. Access to more powerful search
If you have a free LinkedIn account, you can do some basic searching. With a paid account you can perform detailed queries. For example, you can perform a search that includes Fortune 1000 companies (or be even more specific, and simply include results for Fortune 50 companies). This reduces your search time immensely and allows you to search for people based on company size, seniority level, and more.
If you do upgrade, you'll see a gold LinkedIn logo beside these additional search features to indicate access. Depending on your membership level, you'll have fewer or more results.
2. More detailed profile information
If you don't pay for a Premium account, you will only see profile information from contacts at the 1st and 2nd degree contacts. A Premium account allows you to have access beyond your network. Let's look again at a Business account. When you upgrade to one of three levels of access, you will be able to see expanded profiles of everyone on LinkedIn. Moreover, and this is available across all membership levels, you will be able to see who's viewed your profile, assuming they haven't made their account anonymous (be warned, creepers!). This feature is available in your stats, including views by geography and industry), so day-by-day you can check out who's looking at your account and choose to connect with them or contact them (thanks to feature #3 below).
If you have a basic LinkedIn account, you know that you can't easily email someone beyond your network. With InMail, this all changes. With an Executive Business account, the most expensive Business account, you can send 25 InMails a month. The response is guaranteed, so if you don't get a reply in a week you get your credit back. This truly expands your access on LinkedIn so you can reach out to any of their 175 million members. Since LinkedIn has a solid reputation in the business world, an InMail is an appropriate way to expand your contacts (in other words, unlike Facebook, it's not intrusive--assuming you write your message without coming across as too spammy).
So, is it worth the upgrade? If you're looking to expand your business network and your digital Rolodex is key, yes. Moreover, if you're looking for a job, looking for talent, or looking for sales, there is no other platform on the web that can even compare to what LinkedIn has to offer. If the basic account is working just fine for you now and you don't anticipate needing any of the above features, enjoy the free ride and wait on that upgrade until you need it. Based on its recent financial results, LinkedIn will be around for the long haul.
Amber tweets as @ambermac 
[Image: Flickr user Paula Bailey ]