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Social networking turns professional

By Sarah Klein

I recently attended a program at my alma mater for alumni interested in social media. The discussion was led by New York Times reporter Laura M. Holson, author of articles on technology and job-seeking, such as "Tweeting Your Way to a Job".

Networking has always been key for me, and communicating online just makes it more convenient. However, when it comes to using the various networking sites – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn – I see three very distinct platforms, offering a range of different benefits and opportunities.

Holson feels the same. She said that online networking can help you find a job, but you need to be aware of certain rules, which she referred to as social networking "etiquette".

For example, I use Facebook strictly to communicate with friends and family. I also put Facebook's privacy settings to good use; very little about me is on public display. I only accept a friend request if I know the person and a networking or job-related request on Facebook would be highly unusual.

In contrast, on LinkedIn I expect to hear from people I barely know, since the site is about professional relationships rather than personal friendships. Here, I include lots of information in my public profile, detailing my past and current work experience, and what projects I am looking for in the future.

And then there is Twitter. The micro-blogging site is designed to let you air your thoughts to the world, and that makes it perfect for showcasing exactly what I can do. I regularly include links to my work and to my website, as well as re-tweets for publications I am interested in or write for. It's also easy to start a conversation on Twitter, often with people who would otherwise be difficult to reach, like CEOs or even celebrities.

However, everyone's social networking style is different and some of the lines between the sites are starting to get blurred. For example, as more and more corporations establish Facebook and Twitter profiles, it's not unusual to hear about hiring opportunities through those two sites. On the other hand, even though LinkedIn is designed for professional networking, it never hurts to include a personalized note when you are trying to connect with someone.

Try to figure out exactly what you want to achieve with your networking and which platform would be most appropriate. And remember, when it comes to a specific job opportunity, reaching out by phone or e-mail can still be your best bet. But as social networking continues to grow in popularity, it's a good idea to make sure all your bases are covered!

What's your personal comfort level with networking online? Do you have your own social networking etiquette?

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