Online Networking with Social MediaSocial media.  Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and over 400 other recognized social media sites have helped to create a smaller world than ever before.   While concerns grow over privacy rights and whether etiquette and ethics can keep pace with this constantly evolving milieu, there is no question that social media is a pervasive in our daily lives.  Online networking, it seems, is rapidly becoming the communication medium of choice.

The manner in which we choose to present ourselves, to express ourselves via social media will ultimately (whether we mean to or not) determine how others define us.  Once you’ve established an online persona, it becomes difficult, if not impossible to change because, as many an angry teen or amorous politician has discovered, the internet is forever.

For professionals, however, social media provides an excellent opportunity to maximize the benefits of online networking. If you are engaged in an active job search or looking for greener pastures, online networking allows you to increase your visibility, thereby enabling you to acquire more contacts and resources or increase your exposure to recruiters.  In addition, professionals who are content to remain in their present situation use peer networks to acquire information to help them achieve key goals.

Online networking is not, however, without its pitfalls.  Some people believe, for example, that by not “friending” someone on Facebook (i.e., an employer) they can prevent that person from gaining access to “personal” information.  Others take naive comfort in the belief that information they deem to be private can’t be used by others to make employment-related decisions.  We know that’s untrue.

So, now that we’ve reminded you of the dirty little not-so-secret that the “interwebs” are not like Vegas, what else should you know about social media?  Put another way, how can you use social media to maximum effect in your online networking?

First, remember that there is a business purpose to online networking.  The purpose?  To build your brand.  As in, your reputation, your credibility, your bona fides.

You should keep in mind, then, that your online presence is all about promoting You Inc., even if you’re not looking for a job or a job change.  You can successfully build your brand by doing the following:

  • Identify who you are.  To yourself.  Decide what story it is you want your online presence to tell.
  • Tell your story.   Consistently and uniformly across all social media platforms you use.  If your LinkedIn profile conveys an image of a competent professional but your Twitter feeds are sarcastic or offensive, the latter expose the former as being a facade.
  • Join groups that relate to your job or industry or those you are interested in.  Ask questions.  Seek information.  And publicize the association.
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  • Communicate with companies that interest you.  Comment on a Facebook post.   Send an email.   The “Contact Us” tab is for more than figuring out who to complain to about an unsatisfactory product or service.
  • Share your ideas.   Do so in a positive manner.  Remember, however, that your ego is not always your amigo.  If your goal is to show people how smart you are, that will be obvious, and not necessarily in a good way.   Your career is better-served if you are informative and thought-provoking rather than ‘bright and right’.
  • Firewall your life.   Setting boundaries is a term frequently used regarding relationships.   Boundaries are no less relevant in online networking.  If there are aspects of your life you consider to be the business of no one but yourself, then diligently limit access to those aspects.

Effective social media use in online networking will help you get ahead and stay there. Happy networking and good luck!