Tweet to compete

Smart social networking has become essential for most IT execs

A relatively new feature to LinkedIn is its Groups function, which allows members to share information around a common topic or interest. Set up a group for your company and invite customers and fellow employees to share tips and keep up to date on the latest news coming from your organization.

Facebook offers similar group and fan page functions. Members can post comments, photos and more to the site. One caveat to Facebook groups is a lack of notification when something new is published. You have to check back often to see if anything new or interesting is published.

Sell yourself

It's not all about your employer. All social networks blur the line between work and personal, which means you can use these networks to build your own brand.

"There's an opportunity lost by not being on the larger social networks," says Dan Schawbel, a social media specialist at EMC and author of the upcoming book on personal branding titled "Me 2.0". "People are already searching for other people. Recruiters are looking to fill a void. If they don't come across your name, you'll miss out."

Schawbel equates one's presence on social networks as a living resume that can show both your professional skills as well as everything else you do in life. "You're painting a picture of who you are," he says.

Search engine optimization techniques help put company sites higher up in search results pages. Schawbel says you can use similar techniques to improve your search engine ranking by linking your multiple social profiles together. This is particularly important on Twitter and LinkedIn, where your information is more easily trolled by search engine crawlers. If you have a blog, make sure your various profiles link to it, thereby increasing your search engine worthiness. Facebook is a walled garden and the information within is not as easily indexable, but is nonetheless valuable because it can function as a "mailing list" when you're looking for a job or opportunity.

Building such a network does not happen overnight and should be done over time. "If you forge the relationship over time, then you are seen as a contributor to the community so more people are apt to help you out," Schawbel says.

On the flip side, the blurring of the personal/business boundary in social networks can have negative ramifications if the wrong things are posted. Common sense advice from Nina Buik, president of HP's Connect user community: "Look ahead 10 years from now, whatever you post on [a social network] now; will you be happy with in 10 years?"

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