Facebook, Twitter and More: The New Rules of Social Networking

Last Updated Nov 19, 2009 12:27 PM EST

If you aren't using social-media sites to tap into
career and business opportunities in today's tough economy, you
should be. A
survey released in January
by the Pew Internet and American Life Project
found that more than one-third of all Americans now have profiles on
social-networking sites like Facebook, href="http://www.twitter.com/">Twitter, and href="http://www.linkedin.com/">LinkedIn, up from just 8 percent in 2005.
And it's not primarily kids, either: The average LinkedIn user is 40
years old; most Twitter users are now 35 and older; and people from 35 to 54
now represent the biggest group of users on Facebook. "You get access
to people via LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter that you can't get in
other ways," says Sharon Rich, founder of outplacement consulting and
coaching firm Leadership Incorporated. "I think it's
mandatory to be on there."

Social-media sites can become a time suck, so you'll
need to limit the time you invest in them each week. But done right, social
networking is a powerful way to build your professional reputation, find out
about job opportunities, and keep abreast of the latest news and gossip in your
industry.



Build a Powerhouse Profile on LinkedIn


LinkedIn’s business-only focus makes the site popular with
successful professionals (so far, the site has 43 million members in more than
200 countries), so it’s the best place to start your social-media
push. LinkedIn’s large amount of traffic also means that your profile
there is likely to be the first thing that potential employers and clients see
when they google your name, so it’s important to invest some time in
building a strong profile. “Why not tell the story your way?”
says Randy Hain, managing partner of Bell Oaks Executive Search in Atlanta. Hain
knows firsthand the value of a good profile: He recently signed a client (who
will do an estimated $100,000 to $200,000 worth of new business this year) when
the client searched for Hain’s LinkedIn profile after reading an
article he wrote in a trade publication.

Checklist

How to Shape Your Personal Brand on LinkedIn

  • Seek out recommendations from past bosses, key clients,
    colleagues, and direct reports to create a 360-degree picture of your
    strengths. Tell them that you’ll be happy to do the same for
    them.
  • Instead of a generic job title at the top of your profile,
    such as “Owner of John Doe and Associates,” use a short
    description of valuable credentials that you can quantify, such as “20-year
    veteran of $100 million in high-tech mergers,” advises Chris
    Muccio, author of the book 42 Rules for 24-Hour Success on LinkedIn.
  • Fill out the “Interests” section with
    pursuits, such as charitable projects, that reinforce your value to
    potential employers and clients.
  • For consistency and branding, use a good head shot of
    yourself as your photo, and use the same photo on other social networks,
    advises Megan Hendricks, director, employer relations at the College of
    Business at the University of South Florida.
  • Opt for a free vanity address for your profile that uses
    your full name, such as linkedin.com/in/janedoe, so colleagues can find
    your profile easily.

Use LinkedIn’s Tools to Research Potential Job
Opportunities


LinkedIn’s profiles of more than 360,000 businesses
and organizations can be used to gather invaluable intelligence on job openings
and opportunities. Start by entering your target company’s name in
the search bar at the top of the page and specifying “Search
Companies” to find its LinkedIn profile. From there, you can see the
names of current employees that are in your network, job openings, the names of
recent hires, employees who have left the firm, and even the top feeder company
and the most popular next employer among those who have left.

You can also choose to “Search Answers” on
the name of a particular firm to see questions its employees have posted for
other members to answer, their replies to other questions, and Q&As that
mention the company. These pages can provide useful information on the corporate
culture or current challenges the company is trying to solve that will help you
with your cover letter and interview strategies.

To find out about unadvertised job opportunities, try contacting
people you know at the target company, including those who are second- or
third-degree connections (to contact them, you’ll need to get an
introduction from your mutual contact first). If your network is small and you
don’t know anyone at the target company, consider upgrading to a paid
business account on LinkedIn, which starts at $24.95 a month. With one of these
accounts, you can contact anyone on the site directly, although there’s
a limit on how many people outside your network you can contact per month. When
contacting strangers, it’s a good idea to browse their profile and
see if there’s any common ground in either their work or personal
interests you can point to that will make your initial message warmer.

Another way to expand your network is by joining LinkedIn
discussion groups pertaining to your industry and becoming active in posing and
answering questions. Bill
Snyder, 42, recently ended a long job search by answering a question on
LinkedIn about which were the best conferences for meeting the heads of
nonprofit organizations. The question turned out to have been posted by the
founder of a start-up called We-Care.com, who then invited Snyder to a lunch
the next time he was in town. One month later, he offered Snyder a job as the
company’s general manager.


Tweet Your Way to Greater Career Visibility


Twitter is a fast-growing “microblogging”
site that lets you send out frequent 140-character messages (“tweets”)
to a network of people who have opted to follow you, as well as to follow the
updates of anyone in your network. Many professionals use Twitter to send short
bits of useful information, such as business tips or links to interesting
articles, to help build their professional visibility and make new contacts.
The trick is to make sure you limit yourself to messages that are truly useful
(or at least entertaining), so that they’re of value to your
followers.

To make sure you build an appropriate audience, go to the “Settings”
menu and check the box that says “Protect My Updates.” This
will enable you to approve each new follower request — a smart move
if you want to block spammers on the site. Conversely, choosing to follow
well-connected thought leaders in your field can help keep you abreast of
trends in your industry, as well as the latest gossip. One good way to find
people and sites in your industry is to search by what are called “hash
tags” — key words preceded by the “#”
sign that people can include in their tweets to make them searchable. For
example, to find people posting about law or lawyers, you’d search
under “#lawyer,” take a look at all the relevant tweets,
and then choose to follow some of the people or groups with the most
interesting posts.


Master the Delicate Art of Using Facebook Effectively


Facebook can be a great way to reconnect with old friends who
may now be in a position to help you with your career goals, as well as to stay
in touch with colleagues on the site. But since there’s always a
chance that someone in your network could post an embarrassing photo of you or
make comments you don’t want your work contacts to see, make sure you’re
familiar with the site’s privacy settings before building out your
network of friends. Go to “Settings” at the top of your
page, choose “Privacy” from the pull-down menu, and you’ll
come to a page that lets you control who can see almost every posted item on
your page, who can post messages to your wall, and even whether strangers can
search for you and how much of your profile they can see.

Facebook is also rife with professional groups that you can join
and subsequently exchange news with others in your industry and make new
contacts. Simply type in the name of your profession or industry into the
search bar and you’ll see a list of relevant groups, most of which
you can join immediately. While these groups on Facebook are sometimes not as
active and professionally focused as those on LinkedIn, they still can be a
good way to meet new people.

Facebook can be particularly useful for getting the word out and
building a community around a new business venture, but experts advise setting
up a separate “fan page” of your venture to avoid making
your personal page too promotional. John Mooney, principal of marketing firm
JRM Communications LLC, recently advised a Manhattan client who sells waffles
from a mobile truck to create a Facebook group. The client sends out news of
the truck’s future whereabouts to people in his network that he’s
invited to become fans, which has helped increase sales significantly. “They’re
all in New York, and they’re all really into food,” says
Mooney of the group’s members.

But of course. Social networking is all about quickly finding
people in every possible niche. Especially the one that matters most to your
career: that marvelous niche of folks who might just help you succeed.

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