Donna Farrugia is executive director of The Creative Group, a specialized staffing firm that places a comprehensive range of design and marketing professionals with organizations. She has more than 25 years of experience in marketing, business development and management. I interviewed Farrugia on the trend of using social-networking websites for business and how executives can create and maintain an effective online presence. An edited version of her answers follows.

What are the best ways to use social networking for business?

In addition to networking, these sites allow professionals to engage with others and highlight their skills and expertise. But it’s important to always be careful about what you post and with whom you’re sharing the information. Sharing links to news articles relevant to your industry or commenting on others’ posts, for example, are great ways to demonstrate your knowledge of and passion for a certain topic. Providing updates on recent career accomplishments, such as a project you completed, also gives existing and prospective business contacts an idea of where you are in your career.

If you’re looking for work, you can help potential employers or clients find you online by optimizing your profile with words that describe your skills, specialties and positions of interest. For example, if you’re a copywriter specializing in health care, you must include terms such as “copywriter,” “health care” and “ad copy” into your profile for search engines to find these keywords.

What sites are best for professional social networking? Do you recommend that people have separate profiles for personal and professional connections?

There are plenty of professional and social networks out there, and the key is to find one or a few that you feel comfortable using, then focus your efforts on developing a strong presence on those sites. Facebook and LinkedIn are big networking sites, but there are also sites tailored to specific industries. These networks, while smaller, might offer unique benefits, such as the ability to more easily connect with professionals from your field and find news and events that affect your career and business directly.

Many people balk at the idea of managing multiple e-mail accounts, and the same goes for social media profiles. Tools such as Facebook Groups and Google+ Circles also are making it easier for people to separate professional from personal contacts in one account. It doesn’t matter how many accounts you create but rather how you manage and monitor information you’re sharing with people in your networks.

What should people be wary of when it comes to social networking in their career? How do people maintain a professional yet interesting online presence?

No matter how careful you are about using privacy settings to control who in your network sees what information, you never know who might ultimately view your posts. Information can easily and quickly get passed around. So, avoid posting anything too controversial, and never speak negatively of a current or former employer or client. Also, avoid publishing anything that could damage your reputation, even to an audience of friends. You don’t want comments made in the heat of the moment coming back to haunt you.

Giving others a sense of your personality is key to building and maintaining quality and long-lasting relationships. Talking about your hobbies, for example, can give others a good sense of your passions, even if they’re not entirely relevant to your career.

What are the best ways for professionals to utilize multimedia features of social media, such as pictures?

For creative professionals, especially, utilizing multimedia tools is a great way to enhance their online profiles. For example, you can create albums on Facebook or Flickr of your recent design work, or use TwitPic and other photo-sharing tools to visually show potential employers or clients what you’ve been working on. It’s an effective way to showcase your skills and how you’ve applied them in a business setting.

Video is another popular source for information and, if used appropriately, can be an effective way to report on career-related news. For example, if you’re an information technology professional who likes to test products, you might consider creating short videos of your latest discoveries and reviews; it’s another way to demonstrate your passion for an area that pertains to your career.

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One Response to “Q-and-A: Using social media to make connections in your career”

  1. Aaron says:

    I agree that ultimately you never know who will read your posts. That is why i make sure to decline friend requests from anybody who isn't my friend and keep FB a personal forum. I connect professionally with people through LinkedIn and http://www.studentgenius.com . Then there is no confusion about what I can and cannot say, or rather should and should not.