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?"
Get Answers to Questions
Got a technical question that needs answering? If you have a big enough following on Twitter or Facebook and/or belong to certain groups on LinkedIn, posing your question to these groups can be a timesaver.
"2,200 people are following me in some way and any given time I put something out there, some percentage of those folks are paying attention and may answer," says Dan York, director of emerging communications technology at Voxeo. He adds that he can save hours of time by posting a question to his Twitter network, which helped him solve a vexing Wordpress mirroring issue recently.
Social networks can also be used to get a feel for how different industries handle technical and business issues. "I am very interested to get the CIO perspective from outside the legal environment," says Jeffrey Brandt, chief information and knowledge officer at the Washington, DC-based law firm Crowell & Moring. Brandt belongs to a number of knowledge management and CIO-related groups on LinkedIn and finds "a lot of people's thought processes are amazing."