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Connections, Friends, and Followers: How to Navigate (Social) Networking

While social networks might seem complicated and like a minefield to start using, social technology should also be leveraged to increase your profile and reach out to potential employers
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Networking used to be simple. You would meet someone and take his or her card. The rules were simple. You could write a "nice meeting you" note and then call or e-mail to arrange a following meeting. And the etiquette was simple. You would keep in touch every now and then to discuss business (occasionally your personal life). But gone are the days when your contacts lived in rolodexes that sat on your desk and stared back at you on a small ivory colored card.

Today, networking is complicated. Do you fling out your iPhone the second you meet someone and tweet about the rendezvous? Do you log onto Facebook and friend the new acquaintance, or should you add them on LinkedIn? Do you fear the person you are connecting with will be annoyed by another one of those e-mails? The rules are complicated. If you do not connect (LinkedIn), friend (Facebook) or follow (Twitter) the person you just met right away, what is the proper amount of time you should wait to add them to a social network and which one do you use to connect with the new "friend?"

The etiquette is -- you guessed it -- also complicated. What should you have on your Facebook profile? Do you write to them on their wall or in a message? Should you tweet to a person just with an "@" sign or via Direct Message? What should you say in all of these messages and should you comment about someone's photo they just posted from the night before that is a semi-questionable image to begin with?

While LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks might seem complicated and like a minefield to start using, social technology should also be leveraged to increase your profile and reach out to potential employers. While networking has now become a 24-7 activity on these web sites, it is more important then ever to participate on not only Facebook, but also LinkedIn and Twitter.

"There are 22 percent fewer jobs for recent graduates and 20 percent fewer internships available (NACE), which means that personal branding is more than a differentiator, it's a requirement," says Dan Schawbel, author of Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success. He believes people should "invest in themselves and harvest a network. More people are in your network than you think, including your family, friends and even someone you met on a bus or at a baseball game. You need to build strong relationships."

For starters, it is important that you build the network before worrying about all the other rules and basketball bracket add-ons. That starts with having a strong profile on LinkedIn and Facebook. On LinkedIn, make sure to describe your previous jobs and internships with details and care. Add a headshot, ask for recommendations and ensure nothing remains blank. LinkedIn will tell you when your profile is 100 percent finished.

On Facebook, ensure you only have professional photos in your profile and monitor your wall for friends who might leave inappropriate comments that should be deleted immediately. Further, add your phone number and e-mail to insure that if an employer wants to contact you, the information is available. Add which network you belong in, which should be your college, the company you work or interned at and the city where you are located. This will help others easily find you. Join groups and become a fan of organizations and people who best represent who you are. Being a fan of CNN is good; Britney Spears, well, not so much.

If you have already been on these networks since high school or college, perhaps it is time to re-think how you use them. No longer are the keg-stand pictures okay.

"Before applying for jobs, do a cleanup of your social networks," Schawbel notes. These networks should "best represent you. Don't have anything negative that employers would dislike."

After establishing your personal page, start searching for friends, family members, colleagues and anyone else you know. The power of social networking happens in the macro when you are well connected and have many resources to pull from.

The former CEO of LinkedIn, Dan Nye, said once that when I reached 500 LinkedIn connections, "Good things will happen to you." The unique power of LinkedIn makes this true.

A perfect example of a "good thing" occurred a few months ago. I wanted to work for a certain company, but didn't know anyone there. I searched for the business in LinkedIn and found one person who had a connection I was also connected too. I asked that mutual friend to connect us. Before I knew it, I was sitting at a Starbucks, across the table from a woman from the company, discussing job possibilities. The more people you are connected to on LinkedIn, the more effectively you can use the network. Of course, numbers only matter on LinkedIn when people matter. Actually knowing you are connected with is important since people will be less likely to help connect you with someone they know professionally if they do not know you.

While LinkedIn is more to stay in touch and network professionally, Facebook is a playground to meet new people.

"Try to friend as many people as you can," says Mike Germano, president and creative director of Carrot Creative, an interactive marketing firm based in DUMBO, Brooklyn. Facebook relationships can start small, but the platform allows these relationships to grow. "Facebook offers so much and people can do so much with it," Germano said in a phone interview. "It helps me find someone with a common interest and then I can find out more about the movies they like and connect on that level."

And then there is Twitter. Germano has used Twitter to demonstrate the influence of his business and those who work for him. His employees Tweet about getting into a town car after just landing in a new location where there is business to be done. Unlike LinkedIn and Facebook, where both people who are connected have to approve the friendship exists, on Twitter only one person can follow another. Twitter is based on the content one provides; LinkedIn is based on the power of a relationship. Twitter is used to show influence, provide interesting content and narrate your life.

Germano notes: "Linkedin shows your influence from a traditional standpoint from who you personally know and Twitter shows peoples' interest in reading the content you are providing. Facebook shows people who are willing to connect with you and are truly your friend."

For a newcomer, these sites can be complicated and difficult to navigate. But actually, the rules are simple: join and participate (it is only 140 characters per tweet) in the conversation on Twitter, comment on similarities that you and a friend have on Facebook or help build your professional network on LinkedIn.

It is not so much about specific etiquette in each network that matters. It is about general manors. Don't do something on a social network that you would not do in person. Act as you would back in the day when you would ask someone for their business card and then stick it in your rolodex.

This story was first published in Exception Magazine, the premier online source for Maine news.