How Not to Use Online Social Networks: 6 Tips

Online social networks are here to stay. One of every four people on the Web visits online social networks, and about half of social networkers are on the sites every day. As with any new technology, there is plenty to learn and do when it comes to online social networks, as I mentioned in a post last week.

There is also plenty not to do, say experts and social networkers themselves. Here’s a list of tips about what to avoid when using online social networks for professional gain.

1. Don’t be a fair-weather social networker. You should always be networking, keeping the lines of communication open in good career times and bad, says Matthew Moran, a consultant and author based in Phoenix. If you’re turning to online social networks only in times of career desperation or crisis, they won’t prove to be effective resources.

2. Don’t be stingy. “Give before you get,'” says Diane Crompton, senior career management consultant at Right Management Consultants in Atlanta. “Focus on helping others first with their networking objectives and you’ll reap a better return on your own networking.”

3. Don’t expect your network to do all the work. As with life, it’s what YOU put into it. Online social networks are only what people make of them, says Jeff Zbar, an author, columnist and home-office consultant in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale Area. “In every story I’ve written on the topic, high-power execs have sung their praises, but all have said, ‘They’re only as powerful as I make them.'”

4. Avoid the traditional logic that suggests success is based on who you know. “It’s a negative perspective. I change it: it’s who knows you and knows what you know,” Moran says. That means building relationships and engaging in conversations with other professionals so they have a real sense of your skills and abilities.

5. Don’t be afraid of taking chances. “I believe if you are able to word something the right way (politely, humbly), you can ask for what you want–even if it means messaging someone random on Facebook. It’s worked for me more than once!” says Rachel Boyman, a freelance videographer and producer in Washington, D.C.

6. Don’t make online social networks your entire career strategy. Justin Oberman, a new media viral communications consultant in New York, says while online social networks are important to building your career path, if you’re spending all your time online, chances are you don’t have much of a life. A strong network relies on face-time with people, too.

As Christine Louise Hohlbaum, an author and PR consultant in Germany, notes: “Online networking is a great launchpad for connecting with many people. It has added speed and efficiency to our everyday business doings. I will always prefer the face-to-face contact, however. The statement, ‘Just get me the meeting’ comes to mind. There’s nothing like actually meeting the real person behind the profile.”

More Tips for Success With Online Social Networks

Now that you know what to avoid, here are a few more pointers about how to make social networks work best for you.

1. Keep your options open. Besides LinkedIn, Zbar says, other popular online social networks are Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Classmates, Ning, Slide and RockYou, among others. Boyman says she uses Facebook for “research.” “It really helps me to visualize the person I’m contacting, and so often you can see a picture of someone, or some aspect of their lives, that you can glean a piece of information from,” she explains. “Though I don’t mention that I looked up their profile, I think it reflects a bit in the confidence of my approach.”

2. Some online social networks are probably better for you than others. “Create a great profile in the online social network that you get invited to join most frequently. If you get a lot of LinkedIn invites, it is likely that your personal ‘network’ can be found there. If you hear from a lot of friends on Facebook that is the place for you,” says Jay Berkowitz, owner and podcast host at, an Internet marketing agency in Boca Raton, Fla.

3. Create a blog and/or Web site. “I feel like a quintessential element of building a profile online is having a site or blog to reference in all of your profiles and activities on the social web,” says Rand Fishkin, CEO of, an Internet marketing and search engine optimization firm in Seattle.

4. Keep talking! Crompton says multiple “touches” with each contact are likely needed to build a solid relationship–despite the anonymity of online tools.

Readers, have you advanced your careers using online social networks? Give us the details!