Social networking enhances career growth -- only if used correctly

Top three ways to use social networking tools to enhance your brand and your career -- and what pitfalls to avoid.
Written by Jennifer Leggio, Contributor

Guest editorial by Mike Murray

Social networking enhances career growth — only if used correctly
As a career coach and speaker, one of the first questions I get from any audience is some form of:

"How should I be using LinkedIn/Facebook/{Insert name of social network here} to enhance my career?"

When Jennifer asked me to comment on this topic for her blog, I was ecstatic to take the chance to get the message out. And, while I can rant about this topic for hours, this is a blog and not an book. So, I'll keep it somewhat brief:

Social networking sites provide an incredible opportunity to make radical changes in your career. But those changes aren't necessarily going to be good ones unless you do it right. Ultimately, social networking tools are much like a race car -- they help a good driver become a great one, and they help a bad driver become a pile of twisted, smoking metal up against a concrete wall.

The main thing that a social networking site can help you with is the concept of your "personal brand" -- that is, the sites can be used as tools to allow you to become known within a target audience of people. Used well, you can turn yourself in to an expert among experts. Used poorly, you can easily turn yourself into that guy with the 55 pictures of himself drunk and passed out on the floor of your college fraternity house. Caveat emptor.

What I'm going to offer today is the top three ways to use social networking tools to enhance your brand and your career.

1. Niche-ify

As I mentioned earlier, social networking tools give you the opportunity to brand yourself -- to become known. This means that you have to decide what you're going to be known FOR.

And, lest you think that you can just drift along, it's like the sage old Rush song lyric says: "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."

The first rule in marketing (and, truly, this is a form of marketing yourself) is to choose your niche. Choose what your product (in this case, you) will be known for. Are you going to be the girl who is always there when people need help? The social networking expert? The nuclear physicist who dabbles in playing the piano?

It doesn't matter what your niche is -- you just need to decide what you want to be known for and tailor your online presence to that message.

If you want an example of this, there is none better than my blog hostess today, Jennifer Leggio. If you look at any part of Jennifer's online presence, it's clear what her niche in the world is: she's a social networking guru who works with security geeks.

There's only one person who has that niche, which is what makes it so special and what makes Jennifer successful. Because anyone who is looking for someone who understands social networking and security will find her easily on any one of the social networks.

You need to do the same thing. Pick a niche that you can become known for, and anybody who is looking for someone to do a job in that niche will naturally find you.

Next: Cool friends = cool you -->

2. Cool Friends = Cool You

That maxim comes from Tom Peters and it rings more true to me with each person whose career I observe -- we get our best career opportunities through the people that we know. If those people are amazingly cool and are doing cool work, cool opportunities come to us. If those people aren't so cool, or are spending all day sitting around the house... well, you know where you're going to end up.

Studies repeatedly bear this out. Studies show that our income is likely to be within 10 percent of our five closest friends. That our weight is likely to be near that of the people closest to us.

This is where social networking gives an incredible opportunity. Through tools like Twitter and LinkedIn, you can follow, talk with, and ultimately get to know people who you deem as cool. Interested in getting to know social networking experts (like Jennifer)? Follow them on Twitter. Say something interesting in response to one of her comments. And make a new friend.

This is an opportunity that those 15 years ago simply didn't have. Sure, you could sit down and write a letter to someone you admired... but it wasn't quite as easy as sending them a message on Facebook.

3. Stay On Message

This is an area where politicians are far better than the average person -- it's one of the things that allows them to get their messages across so effectively and make their messages part of the common cultural lexicon. (For example, even now if someone says "flip-flop" to me, John Kerry comes to mind). If you're a fan of the "Daily Show", you've seen the compilations where all of the different politicians use the same words and phrases on every TV show and speaking appearance over the course of a few weeks.

Once you have your niche and network of cool friends, staying on message to reiterate your expertise within your niche is important. Unfortunately, this is where most people don't use their social networking tools effectively to enhance their careers. Even if you get the first two pieces right, it's easy to start treating Facebook and Twitter like a personal journal.

I'd start giving my own thoughts here, but the best thinking I've seen on this matter comes from Tim Ferriss (author of "The Four-Hour Workweek"):

"Use Twitter as a “micro-blogging” platform, exactly how it’s most often described. Just as I wouldn’t put up a blog post that reads “just ate a burrito. Mmmm… good,” as it consumes readers valuable attention without adding value, I wouldn’t put up such a post on Twitter."

The point here is that these are tools for enhancing your career: use them that way. Keep your messages tailored to your audience, and make sure that they're helping you be known for what you want to be known for.

Mike Murray has spent his entire career in information security, from his work in the late 90's as a penetration tester and vulnerability researcher to leadership positions at nCircle, Neohapsis and Liberty Mutual Insurance Group. He currently leads Michael Murray and Associates, LLC where he, his team and a network of business partners consult with forward-thinking organizations on their security postures and human systems.

Mike's talks about how to build a great career have been seen at major information security conferences like RSA and Defcon, and his work on advanced social engineering has been widely recognized. Mike's thoughts on security can be found on his blog at Episteme.ca, and his work on helping build careers can be found at TheConnectedCareer.com. He can be also be reached via email.

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