More than half a billion people are on Facebook, and social sites like Twitter and LinkedIn are growing increasingly popular, too. Can a motivated young person leverage his presence on social sites into a raise, a promotion or a new job?
The answer, of course, is yes. But there are plenty of opportunities to make missteps in the social-media universe; social sites, after all, were practically designed to encourage oversharing.
Perhaps the best way to think about your presence online is to look at yourself as a company – or, more accurately, as a brand.
Today, most large companies have a Facebook page, at least one Twitter account and a presence on LinkedIn – so you should consider following their lead. A company wouldn't post inappropriate pictures or comments on any of its official pages, so you shouldn't either. And just as a company would promote itself online by mentioning awards or accolades it had received, you should do the same on your social-media accounts.
But being active in the social-media world isn't just about establishing a presence – it's about using that presence to get what you want.
If you'd like to get ahead in your current job, mentioning your professional accomplishments through social sites – and "friending" your bosses and coworkers – can get you noticed by the right people. Is it new opportunities you desire? Social networks can help out, there, too, by making it easy to connect with people who are where you want to be.
As U.S. News & World Report notes in a recent blog post, professionals at different stages of their careers have leveraged social media to their benefit. Simply friending people in the industry you want to join and asking for informational interviews can get you ahead.
It's smart, Careerrealism.com founder Chris O'Donnell said to the magazine, to try "building relationships with key players and networking [yourself] into the group that can get [you] hired."
But it's all too easy to make faux pas when building a web presence. Off-color pictures, comments or jokes can throw people off – and using social-media sites at work is often a no-no. In fact, in a survey conducted by staffing firm Accountemps, 51 percent of CFOs said they were worried that their employees were wasting time online.
The lesson is, don't be afraid to use social sites to get ahead in your career – but be smart about how you do it.