Make a Social Network Work For You

You may not find your next job by hanging around on Facebook or LinkedIn, but you sure can raise your professional profile.

By
Don Willmott | November 2007


If your friends haven’t urged you to join Facebook in the past few
months, don’t worry. Someone will bring it up soon. People have been
joining in droves, and someone is sure to ask you to come on board as
well. But is it worth your time? Can Facebook, or any large social
network for that matter, have any meaningful impact on your career?

They certainly can if you end up working for one.
Social networks and online communities are growing so quickly that it
makes sense to consider perfecting your Web 2.0 development skills and
looking at them as a career opportunity.
However, if you’d rather
stay in your chosen field and simply use these sites to facilitate your
own career networking, there are smart strategies you can use.

LinkedIn (14 million users)

There are fewer people on LinkedIn
than other social networks, but they’re the right people. This
well-crafted site is designed solely to help you make professional
connections. It’s so serious that until recently you couldn’t even post
a photo of yourself. Submit your resume and skills, state your
intentions (looking to hire, looking to be hired, looking for freelance
work, etc.), import your address book to find colleagues who are
already there – and start making connections.

Does it work? Some say it does. Janet Ryan, chief of advertising at TeeBeeDee.com,
another social networking site, says she landed her job when the
company’s founder searched LinkedIn for a specialist to set up revenue
operations just before the product launched. "By checking our mutual
connections she was able to do a full reference check before we ever
met, and I did the same on my end as well," Ryan recalls. "When we met
in person it was like talking with an old friend, and we started
working together immediately."

LinkedIn’s search tools
help find people like you, people who might need you, people you might
need, and people who share your skills. The site also has a useful
Q&A feature that lets you make your presence known by asking
contacts specific career-related questions (and answering them, too).
All this is free, and it’s worth an hour of your time to get familiar
with its look and feel.

Facebook (47 million users)

The social networking darling of 2007, Facebook’s
popularity exploded last year when it opened membership to everyone,
not just the college students who gave it its start. In May, the site
unlocked its application environment for outside developers, who
responded by creating more than 5,000 mini-apps (so far) to make it
more fun and useful. Now millions of people are joining each month.

Once you have a few dozen friends lined up, you’ll find Facebook is an
engaging, if not terribly useful, place to visit. The running feed on
your main page tells you what everyone you know is up to, and you can
report on your own activities – telling everyone, for example, that
you’re finishing an assignment, or looking for a new job, or learning a
new skill. That could prove helpful if you’re trying to make your
career intentions known.

Facebook will get a lot more interesting for professionals if, as
rumors suggest, it eventually lets users separate personal and
professional relationships. Filtering out all the fun chatter and using
the power of the platform to assist your career development could make
Facebook an important professional tool. For now, cave in to the peer
pressure and establish a Facebook identity. Even if it doesn’t become a
big part of your day, it’s vital to understand what it’s all about and
why so many people are gravitating toward it. As Hong Kong-based
technology expert Hugo DesRosiers puts it, "I’ve been on Facebook for
just three or four months and have gotten lots of connections from
people all over. It hasn’t done much for me professionally, but it’s
relaxing to look at pictures and see what my far-flung friends are
doing."

And if you’re a programmer with an entrepreneurial streak, consider
developing your own Facebook mini-app, posting it at the site, and
incorporating some Google ads into it. Maybe you’ll make a few bucks.

Friendster (48 million users)

Been there, done that, walked away. Hot in 2003, the first big social network
failed to evolve fast enough and was left in the dust of newer
competitors. You won’t make professional connections here, but you may
find a date.

MySpace (200 million users)

Your kids are probably enjoying it, and its success is undeniable, but MySpace
isn’t a grown-up environment. There are all sorts of tools for creative
self-expression, but they mainly appeal to 16-year-olds. The time you
spend here may be fun, but it won’t benefit your career.

Roll Your Own Social Network

Another
way to use social networking to your professional advantage is to
create your own mini-network and populate it with people with whom
you’ve enjoyed success in the past. Ning,
a build-your-own social network service co-founded by Netscape founder
Marc Andreessen, gives you the tools to set up your own little LinkedIn
or Facebook. Just follow the template and consider creating a club for
former employees of the company you used to work at. People usually
enjoy reconnecting with old acquaintances, and you can update each
other on where you are and what you’re doing. As friends invite other
friends, you may discover you’ve reconnected with dozens of potentially
valuable contacts you thought were lost forever.

Don Willmott is a New York City-based journalist who focuses on Internet and technology trends.

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