Social networking can help your career

The corporate communication teams in organisations have for the longest time controlled what messages are put out into the world about the company and its people. Oftentimes only the most senior or glamorous get to become spokespeople and the real specialists are hidden away, never getting the chance to talk publicly about their subject or engage and debate with others, for the benefit of their peer group.

Social media changes all of that, allowing everyone to have a voice. Whilst it’s not suggested you do anything that contravenes your company’s communication policy, such as contacting the media directly with your point of view, you can use social media to build your profile for the good of your peer group, and your own career development. This article aims to give some practical advice about how it works and how to get started.

Whether you are employed within an organisation or are an independent consultant LinkedIn is an important tool for you. It helps you to make better use of your professional network and help the people that you trust and vice versa. On the site, you will connect with the people that you know now and the people that you’ve lost touch with, say from previous jobs. Once connected, you then have sight of all their contacts: their little black books. As you move around, you simply update your details and everyone in your network knows where you are and what you’re doing – a very clean database not previously available.

At the very least, this gives you a very soft route to contact people. There may be people that you wouldn’t dream of telephoning or emailing to enquire if they can help you in your job search, but connecting through LinkedIn is usually acceptable and allows for conversations that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. Although your direct contacts may not be in a position to offer you a new job, they may know someone that can.

Once on the site, there are a number of functions that can help you:
Recommendations – you can ask your contacts to recommend you. Their enthusiastic words will appear in the daily feed of your network so everyone will see what contribution you are making in your field.
Groups – there are literally thousands of groups covering all manner of subjects. Join some that are relevant to what you do and if you don’t find one that you like, set one up. Then join in the conversations that are taking place, be helpful and start to get yourself known.
Job search – companies now use LinkedIn to publish their vacancies. Search under the terms you’re interested in, and then it will give you information about who in your network works there, which may help you get the inside track. You can even look up details of the interviewer to get some background information on them, which may help the conversation flow in the interview.
Share – tell your network what you’re working on; provide links to interesting articles or examples of something you’ve created. The more useful you can be to your network, the more respected you will become.

Your personal brand
You will need to develop your online profile and once done, make sure you use it consistently across all social networks. Employers do use social networking sites to check potential candidates, so make sure everything adds up. As an aside, watch out for Facebook. This is the place where you express yourself to your friends which may be very different from your professional persona. Be careful about who you accept into your Facebook network and ensure you set your account so only your friends see your information.

When developing your online profile, consider what it is you do and who you serve. We can be our own harshest critics so it’s good to ask business associates how they view you and what they consider are your strengths.

Choose a picture or avatar (a graphical representation of yourself) and use it across all networks. This isn’t the place for your favourite bikini shot; this should reflect your professional image. It will effectively become your logo and people will come to recognise it as your part of your personal brand.

Building your brand
Choose your specialist subject. For example, you may consider yourself an authority on cleaning systems. Search for people that are already talking about the subject, perhaps through their blogs and subscribe to their feeds through Google Reader, or similar. This will provide you with material and comment about the subject. Combining what you find with your own material, get active online. Talk about your subject in online groups and forums, write regular blogs (at least two a month), record PodCasts, place great presentations on SlideShare, make short instructional films and place on your own YouTube channel and broadcast links to these and other’s materials through Twitter.

This type of activity will, over time, make you the ‘go to’ person for cleaning systems, or whatever your subject is. You’ll start to get known, you’ll build a following and people will start to recommend you. Your brand equity will rise and your access to opportunities will increase.

Of course social media is just part of your toolkit when it comes to your career development, but think if you get started now, and become a valuable contributor to your network, you may within a matter of months be perceived as the expert on your subject. Not bad eh?

One final note, please check your company’s policy when it comes to you using social media and ensure you work within the set out boundaries.

Article by: Liz Kentish and Christine Jones, Director of Tiger Mouth, communications consultancy. To find out more about us, contact Liz Kentish, The FM Coach on Tel: 01778 561326 / 07717 870777 or email: coach@lizkentishcoaching.co.uk

This article was published by FM World 6 May 2010 www.fm-world.co.uk

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