Online social media is a godsend. It’s the best way to keep in touch with people overseas, stay on top of what’s happening in your friends’ lives, reconnect with old classmates, and share photos, videos and personal information.

When social media are effectively utilised, they can promote a new company service or even increase your employability too.

Social media is all about building relationships, says career and executive coach Angela Spaxman. According to Angela, “people can use online social media to meet and build relationships with others who could be potential employers, or who can give them inside information about what it’s like to work in different companies or industries.”

If you work in industries like sales, marketing, media or recruiting that can benefit from a huge contact list, online social media is definitely the way to go, explains Angela. Still, it pays to tread carefully, when it’s your job and your professional reputation on the line.

We ask two experts – executive coach Angela Spaxman and consumer engagement and digital marketing guru Gregory Birge – for tips on how and which social media to use for work.

1. BE HONEST
Do not lie and do not pretend to be someone you’re not. Be real when explaining your objectives, what you’ve done, how you’ve managed problems, and so on. Angela shares this advice: “Many people showcase their work and lives in social media simply for the joy of it, not for purposes of finding a job. If you adopt that attitude to sharing, your purposes will be clear.

Employ a direct approach if you’re really keen on sourcing a job through online social media. Angela says that you should identify the organisations where you would most like to work, then build relationships with them directly and share who you are and what you do in your interactions with them.”

2. USE THE SAME FORMULA AS WHEN YOU’RE WRITING A RESUME
Just because your information is online, it doesn’t mean you can put in whatever you want. In fact, this is all the more reason you should refine your profile and employment details.

3. USE SOCIAL MEDIA AS A STARTING POINT
Use it to build a network and contact potential employers or clients, and then follow up with a phone call or a meeting.

4. USE DIFFERENT MEDIA FOR DIFFERENT PURPOSES
Angela believes that all careers can benefit from online social media, if it is used appropriately for the industry.

For your professional life:

  • Linkedin: This website is popular among people who want to put themselves out there professionally. It allows you to list your entire employment and educational history, and select your areas of interest, like new ventures, career opportunities, consulting offers, business deals, and more. It helps you form and maintain professional connections – you can use the site to look up ex-colleagues, and stay in touch with clients and work associates.

To sell a product or publicise an event: 

  • Facebook and Twitter: Most useful when you need to put across a particular message or grow your client base, these two social media are a boon to those who work in industries like sales or marketing.

Industry-specific:

  • Myspace: Revamped in 2010, Myspace is more of a social entertainment hub that has been proven to be helpful to musicians and people who use audio and video files in their line of work, such as advertising, copywriters, TV producers and actors.
  • Niche online forums: Sites where people discuss topics of interest. Angela says that these are a good way to build professional relationships: “these forums allow you to show how knowledgeable you are. And there are thousands of these, on thousands of specific topics.”
  • Blogs: Be it a beauty or food blogs, these websites are also great ways to publicise and market your expertise. You could also consider turning to popular bloggers to review or feature the products and services offered by your company.

5. ASK YOUR FRIENDS FOR FEEDBACK ON YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA PROFILE
To build a positive reputation, it takes a lot of personal awareness and alertness to know what can be or should not be shared with everyone. “You may think you’re fun-loving, curious, generous and widely known,” Angela points out, “but you may be coming across as overly dramatic, narcissistic, negative, naive, inconsistent or uncommitted. It pays to get honest feedback from people you trust.”

6. FIND OUT ABOUT YOUR COMPANY’S GUIDELINES ON SOCIAL MEDIA SITES AND ONLINE CONDUCT
What you think is acceptable to post and share might not be the case for your bosses. Your company may also prefer to have you engage your clients and corporate partners in more face-to-face interactions. While online networking may be convenient and easy, spending too much time on your computer may mean you’re neglecting to build the skills and confidence it takes to forge connections and relationships in person.

Angela adds that “people who are constantly online may be overdosing on information and forgetting to pay attention to what’s already inside them, through quiet time with themselves or with close friends.”

7. KEEP SEPARATE SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS
The decision to maintain separate social media accounts depends on your strategy and how you manage your lists, offers Angela. She uses Oprah as an example: “someone like Oprah has made millions by freely sharing her personal foibles in public in a very authentic way”.

Angela warns that this is still a dangerous strategy. It requires a certain self-awareness, maturity and a discerning eye on what is work-appropriate and what isn’t. In some jobs, online social media may not be a wise idea; for example, the military and other professions where confidentiality is expected of employees at all times.

Depending on the site you’re using, you can adjust always your privacy settings to keep what you share to your friends. But if you don’t want to fuss around with such details – they can get pretty bothersome, especially if the site’s privacy policies keep changing – it might be wise to start a separate account.

One way to distinguish your personal from your professional account is to use a different profile photo, if you’re using Facebook, for example, or a different account name, if you’re on Twitter.

Angela Spaxman is a Hong Kong-based executive coach from Loving Your Work, a company that provides career coaching services for managers and professionals. Go to www.loving-your-work.com to find out more about the services offered by the company. 

Gregory Birge is the founder and CEO of F5 Digital Consulting, a communications and strategic marketing agency located at 15B Temple Street, #03-02, (S) 058562. Visit the company’s website at www.f5dc.com for more information.

This article was originally published in SimplyHer May 2011.