Online Business and Social Networks: What Do They Mean to Your Career?

By Paula Santonocito

Online Business and Social NetworksSingle-minded, career-minded women have always known that networking can lead to job opportunities. What’s different today is that lot of networking happens online.

Like offline networking, online networking allows for interaction. However, it’s not simply a matter of an old-world process moving to a new venue. Technology allows for a wider range of networking experiences and exciting new career possibilities. Indeed, professional women in a variety of fields have leveraged the power of online business and social network sites to their advantage.

But what sites should you use, and what do they offer?

Linking In

When it’s time to get down to the business of business networking, the premier venue is LinkedIn. Boasting more than 25 million members from around the world representing 150 industries, LinkedIn helps you stay connected to people in your field and allows you to build relationships with people your colleagues know.

LinkedIn also offers group discussions in which you can participate and job listings you can search. As a networking tool, it can prove extremely valuable.

But perhaps the most powerful feature of LinkedIn is the marketing opportunity it provides.

When you join LinkedIn, you create a personal profile. Your LinkedIn profile serves as mini resume of sorts, except it goes beyond a standard resume in that a resume typically includes only work history and education information.

When building your LinkedIn profile you can upload your photo, get recommendations from people familiar with your work, post information about your interests—and that’s only the beginning. Some people build profiles that are so robust that they almost qualify as mini websites.

And speaking of websites, LinkedIn allows you to link to up to three websites as part of your profile. If you have a personal website, work for a company, and are active in a particular organization, for example, you might decide to link to three websites.

LinkedIn also allows you to indicate what you’re looking for in terms of networking. You can choose from a menu that includes “career opportunities,” “consulting offers,” and more.

Although basic LinkedIn membership is free, joining LinkedIn requires another kind of commitment. It takes time to build a profile and to build a network. Nevertheless, the potential for reward exists.

By including the URL to your LinkedIn profile as part of your email signature line, for example, you provide business associates with access to your background information. This, in turn, can lead to new opportunities.

And that’s not all. Thanks to the all-powerful Google and the tech gurus at LinkedIn, you don’t even have to do all the marketing.

Once you create a LinkedIn profile, it will be among the top items returned when someone searches on your name using Google. In other words, when a potential employer or client checks you out, a link to your LinkedIn profile will pop up. By following it, interested colleagues will have access to whatever information you’ve chosen to share.

LinkedIn isn’t the only business networking tool. There are other public networking sites, and opportunities for networking through various professional associations.

There are also social networking sites that allow for professional interaction.

Facing Up

Although it got its start as a social networking site used primarily by high school and college students, a growing number of working professionals are finding value at Facebook.

The site offers an entirely different format from LinkedIn, one that’s geared toward a more casual approach, but how you utilize it is up to you.

People who choose to use Facebook as a career tool generally post profiles similar to what they have at LinkedIn.

At Facebook, you’ll also find groups. But, since this is a social networking site, topics cover a wider range. If you’re interested in using the site for professional purposes, some sifting is required.

One of the many useful features of Facebook is the Wall. Each person who has a Facebook profile has a Wall, which is what it sounds like: a place to post information. Among the many ways to use your Wall is to post new business offerings and professional activity.

Facebook also has a lot of great applications you can use, including one that, yep, you guessed it, allows you to promote your LinkedIn profile.

Online Networks and the Job Search

Admittedly, the entire online networking process requires effort. For single-minded women with time constraints, it can seem as overwhelming as, well, “live” networking.

Be that as it may, don’t overlook what these sites potentially offer, particularly if you’re exploring your career options.

Networking has always been a way to further your career and land jobs, and in today’s world where so much happens online, social and business networking sites are a natural extension of the process.

In fact, networking online has become such a phenomenon that job boards and career websites are beginning to find ways to tap into the power of networking sites.

CollegeRecruiter.com, a leading job board for college students and recent grads, this summer integrated LinkedIn networking features. Now, students, recent graduates, and alumni who apply for internships or entry-level jobs at CollegeRecruiter.com immediately see who they know at the organizations to which they apply.

And this is only the beginning. Look for more job sites to tap into the power of these tools.

And powerful they are. But, as when using any tools, online social and business networking sites require caution. See “Your Online Image and Your Career” for what to avoid.

That said, if you haven’t already, consider linking in. It’s time to face up to the fact that online networking is here to stay.

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