Joining a social network on the Internet means that you are going public with all the benefits and drawbacks. Here is how to control your public image.
Facebook’s existence cannot be ignored; tens of millions of people use this site more than other social networks like MySpace, LinkedIn, Viadeo, Spokes, and so on. These networks are easy to join and free, but are nothing more than mega databases updated by its members. Your network is already partially filled with your friends and friends of friends. It’s easy to see the six degrees of separation principle: there are no more than five people between us and every other person in the world, including Madonna or the Dalai Lama.
Each member builds a virtual identity and can travel around the Internet in the comfort of their home, far from dusty social clubs and bars. This won’t shelter you from risks, on the contrary. Here are some recommendations to avoid getting lost in this new world.
Choose a professional or personal network according to your goals. If you are looking for kindred spirits or party friends, Facebook and MySpace have the best results whereas LinkedIn and Spokes have a purely professional purpose. Keep in mind that nothing is stopping you from having profiles on both, but you are going public so don’t forget what you post.
Control your image and exercise judgment, posting personal photo albums can result in unwanted consequences and negative interpretations. Some people choose to use an avatar (an icon representing them on the web) instead of a photo. Others hide their identities and only post or share their interests with separate, hand-picked contacts. If you decide to be completely visible, it is your responsibility to make sure not to overexpose your personal life or you risk losing it. Do not encourage your entourage to fill your profile with your personal details.
Be a clever strategist. For people in their careers, know that more and more recruiters (myself included) use networks to conduct our searches. If you are not visible, you have no chance of being noticed, hunted, and recruited. Know how to use networks to better promote yourself.
Seeing the extent to which networks can facilitate things—such as a recruiter finding a potential candidate—is incredible. It has been a few months since I was searching for a candidate who I lost track of. I took a chance on LinkedIn and discovered he now lives on the other side of the Atlantic, but this still did not prevent me from re-establishing contact through email. During our exchange, he said he was interested in returning to Quebec and I presented him to my client a few weeks later.
Virtual networks let me fill my own network like never before. We are not all looking for jobs, but the majority of us want to keep connections, share contacts, refer friends, and advance our own businesses or careers.
Using these resources is just as important as moderating them. Cheating by making a fake profile or fake recommendations is actually hard because cheaters are quickly exposed.
Sceptics say that user profiles lack objectivity, maybe. But the virtual social networks can be really useful as other means of contacting people. The majority of my exchanges are still made in person—which is still the best way to build rapport—even if it is initiated on the Internet.