Your Online Presence

Everyone knows that having some kind of online presence is important. But with so many ways to interact online, it can be hard to know how to get the most out of your social networks and actually connect with people in your industry. In fact, some would even have you believe you need a virtual PA or intern to manage the varying social network services out there. But with just a little bit of homework, it’s actually quite simple to set up and maintain your online presence.

Networking Sites

As a slew of recent media articles have reported, social networks like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter are no longer the sole domain of twenty-somethings and teenagers. Companies are using them for branding and promotions, and parents are using them to keep in touch with said twenty-somethings and teenagers. So how do you fit your career interests into your Facebook page if your Aunt Ellen keeps posting LOLcat pictures to your wall?

First, think about the reason you joined a social network, and if it’s the best one for you. If you truly did join Facebook to keep in touch with faraway family (or you just really like LOLcat pictures) – fine. Just remember that many employers now conduct fairly in-depth online searches about prospective hires, so keep it clean.

Okay, now you’ve established the why of your joining a social network, think about the network itself. Facebook is great for more casual connections, but LinkedIn is the go to for many professionals (more below). Both these services, however, are not industry specific, so making worthwhile career connections can be a bit time consuming. Enter the targeted social network.

Many industries are now establishing their own social networks. Designed just for those in the nursing field, NurseConnect.com allows students and nurses alike to interact online. Then there’s Lawyrs.net, a social network for the legal eagles out there, and even BevConnect.com, a networking site aimed at those in the beer, wine and spirits industry. Not sure where to start? A simple google search for “your profession social network” should yield several useful results. (Not finding any networks devoted to your particular field? Consider creating your own with Ning.com)

Note on Twitter: Not so much a social network as part microblog, part casual connection, and part professional interaction, using Twitter as a way to maintain professional contacts can be daunting. To get started, try linking your Twitter account to your other social networks, and go from there. Use the style and frequency of other industry professionals tweets to help you get a handle on what’s appropriate and what’s not. Unsure of a certain tweet? Shelve it for a while – remember, once you’ve broadcast it to the interwebs, it’s out there for good.

How to get the most out of your online connections

So now you’ve joined the social networks of your choice, what do you do? The average Facebook user’s profile would make it seem the network is all about games, quizzes, and random YouTube videos. And while some of these things can be fun, there are more useful ways to connect via social networks than a ‘- – - -” quiz.

DON’T JOIN EVERYTHING
Perhaps most importantly, though, don’t join everything. So what if your colleague has accounts on MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, Tribe, Bebo, and Hi5? Maintaining that many profiles keeps connections superficial. Take the time to talk to your online contacts, and make sure you update your status and profile regularly – it doesn’t have to be every five minutes, but it should certainly be more often than every five weeks. And not everything has to be cut and dried – a few personal updates are fine, too. Just like in real life, your online contacts want to get a sense of not just your work persona, but of you.

TAKE TIME TO INTERACT
It may seem obvious, but actually taking the time to connect with the people you’re networked to is an oft-neglected, but essential part of maintaining an online presence. Not sure how to go about talking to your latest contact? A good place to start is a simple “hello” – write on their wall, or send a short message to introduce yourself and establish a dialogue. Take opportunities to keep the conversation going – if someone in your network posts a question, or asks for advice, take a couple of minutes to comment or shoot off an email. (Tip: most social networks send reminders for your contacts’ birthdays – send congratulations for the big day. A personal touch is always appreciated.)

SYNCHRONICITY
Keeping your contacts synchronized across social networks can be a useful tool – it keeps everything you need to know about everyone in one place. It also makes it easier to create meaningful interactions. For more about keeping up to date with your contacts and social networks? Check out this free e-book, Synchronizing Social Networks, from the Marketing Over Coffee guys, John Wall and Chris Penn.

Should you blog?

Setting up a blog is easy. The simplest, most popular services are WordPress and Blogger. Picking a template and making a blog your own is a pretty quick process, and both services walk you through it (Tip: if you’re into simple CSS and HTML customization, go with Blogger).
But should you blog? This is a simple question with a difficult answer – basically, it’s up to you. Blogging requires a certain level of commitment, so building a following, maintaining a following, and using your blog to establish professional connections can take up an awful lot of time. Is investing so much time in blogging going to be worth it to you? Well, only you can answer that. (That said, there are certain professions – such as writing, advertising, and news media – where setting up a blog is definitely a must.)

Now, let’s say you do decide to set up a blog. What should you blog about? Again, this requires some time and thought. Spend a few minutes thinking about what makes you, and your role in your chosen profession, unique. Write down anything that comes to mind – it doesn’t matter how ridiculous it sounds. Then start making connections. Think about how you can write what you know, and how you can give information to your readers. What makes your information different? Is it your unique style? Do you like Venn diagrams? Is everything you write explained in terms of doughnuts?

Once you’ve answered these few questions, write your post, and get started. Remember to read other people’s blogs and comment where you can, and keep an eye out for useful blog building tips, like the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog guide offered on ProBlogger. Most importantly of all, update your blog regularly, and always respond to commenters. Remember – establishing your online presence is about making connections.

By Peta Andersen
May 27, 2009
© Daype Inc.