THE BLOG
12/16/2014 10:56 am ET Updated Feb 15, 2015

Learn 4 Social Media Rules To Reinvent Your Career, Credibility & Network

Social media skills are no longer a "nice to have," but a "need to have" if we're going to be taken seriously in and beyond the job market in a more entrepreneurial, free-lancer economy. For those of us who may have resisted this evolution, never fear: getting up to speed is no mystery: read on to learn four rules you can use to master your social media strategy.

Many of us in the boomer generation are emerging from decades in corporate jobs where the new world of social media may have only been tangential to our work. We are looking at reinventing ourselves with encore careers, and we will need social media skills to get those jobs and start those businesses -- as well as to grow and maintain them.

One of our key concerns, whether we've been downsized from a longstanding job in our 50s, or are coming up on an imminent retirement at or beyond 60, is our ability to connect effectively out in the business world. For many of us, it's probably been years (or even decades) since we last put a resume together. We may have developed a tight network of business contacts in our field, but that network may be limited if we are relaunching ourselves into a new sector of our industry, or into a completely new field entirely. So not only are we out of practice with our traditional career skills, but are also likely intimidated by the prospect of navigating the social media economy.

Boomers are already using social media in great numbers. Facebook usage among 55+ has jumped 80 percent over the past three years, and about 70 percent of us are actually using the platform regularly. But most of us view social media as entertainment: it's a fun way to see what's going on, to share photos and videos with family and friends, and to discuss news and social topics du jour. While 32% of us do use Linkedin, arguably the single most important social media platform for career development, I fear that we don't have the necessary "digital native" understanding of how to use social media to leverage our business profile. For the majority of us, choosing between the various platforms, knowing what to post, when to post, who to follow, and how to manage the whole process, makes us want to throw up our hands at best, or disengage completely at worst. To slice through this Gordian Knot, consider these four rules:

1. Credibility: Define Your Social Capital
Social Capital is how our value and reputation are perceived across social media. Too many of us represent ourselves poorly and inconsistently online, presenting a picture that is unclear and incomplete. In order to build our personal brand (yes, an entirely overused term), and to be taken seriously, we need to build some consistency and point of view in our social media presence.

- Firewall Your Facebook: FB is for friends and family, not for business (unless you are a marketer targeting consumers -- in which case it's great, but that's another story). Cull your FB friends list and pare it down to people you know well and/or for a long time: family, classmates, and friends you actually hang out with. Unfriend anyone and everyone with whom you wouldn't have lunch or dinner or otherwise let down your guard. The world doesn't need to see your family vacations, your pet pictures or your grandkids' birthday parties. Lock down your privacy settings and have a safe and enjoyable personal network.

- Invest In LinkedIn: Re invite all the connections you unfriended on FB to LinkedIn. This is the place for everyone from casual business (and untested social) acquaintances, to colleagues, clients, vendors, and potential associates of all stripes, including your business fans and followers and the business, social and cultural icons (big and small) whom you admire and follow. In my view, LinkedIn is the number one business ecosystem in use today -- particularly for Boomers. It is essential that we be here -- and that our profiles are complete and up-to-date. That includes your professional portrait, updated contact information, and complete background. Fill everything in. The profile wizard will prompt you for all the information you need to include. Yes, fill in everything. What are you afraid of? This is your 21st century resume.

But just like you don't want to show someone a five-page resume, work at summarizing so that someone can breeze through your profile, understand the essence of who you are, and be impressed enough to either accept your connection request, or reach out to you with one of their own. Market yourself through short, snappy summaries. Avoid meticulously detailed descriptions. If potential connections spark to the summaries, you'll have plenty of opportunity to fill in the blanks with them later.

- Tweet To The Street: Twitter is like walking down Fifth Avenue with a sandwich board strapped to your chest and back. If you're going to use the platform, don't squander the opportunity on unfocused, reactive blips. Have a point a view, an agenda, and a voice. Share wisdom, ideas, articles and information that matter to you and reflect the same person you are in your LinkedIn profile. Let Twitter be the real time extension of that presence. If you're not getting re-tweeted, change your approach. If you are getting re-tweeted, then re-tweet the re-tweeters: remember that this is SOCIAL media: it's a Conversation, not Broadcast. Flatter your followers by spreading their word, just like they're spreading yours.

- Social Extensions: If you've got the ideas, the imagination and the time, extend your presence onto other platforms: Instagram, YouTube, Medium, Tumblr, Reddit, Wordpress etc. Use these to reflect additional, distinct aspects of your personality, your talents, your interests. Love taking photos of architectural landmarks? Collect rare books? Fan of Mark Twain quotes? Can't get enough of cycling, cycling gear, cycling trips? Find a social platform outlet for these interests and they'll round out your online persona. Love sharing your expertise? Open up a Quora account and mentor others! When people start to cross-reference your accounts, and connect with you across multiple platforms, you'll find an amazing network synergy begin to build on a scale that was unimaginable before the internet.

2. Curation: You Are What You Share
By your content you are known. Whether you're writing original posts on LinkedIn or Wordpress or Medium or, yes, Huffington Post; or sharing articles or news by/about others, how you curate is vitally important. Never just hit a "share" button without commenting on why you're sharing what you're sharing. By extension, if you don't know what you're going to say about something you're sharing, or your initial impulse to share something fades by the time you realize you really don't have anything interesting to say about it, don't share it. Your perspective, your take on the content is what matters. It's what distinguishes you from everyone else, puts your particular stamp on that material, and, if you're successfully connecting out to an audience, is what is going to keep people coming back to you. Multiply this by the various platforms you're participating in, and you'll be able to steadily build a compelling body of work that will get you noticed.

3. Connections: Giving Is Receiving
Boomers are particularly vulnerable in the work place. We're fighting the perception that we're on our way out, that we only have a few years of business life left, that we're risky job candidates. The truth is that we have plenty of time left, but we're going to need to use our network... With LinkedIn to the rescue, we can actually focus on building networks that are two, three, four or more times as large as our traditional "analog" contact bases. And contrary to the practice we grew up with: mailing out resumes to faceless recruiters advertising vague job postings in classified ads (or on Monster.com), today's approach is to use our networks to get our jobs, and to be referred to an opening through an actual connection. Think about it: if you had the choice of hiring someone you didn't know, who didn't know anyone in your company or in your network, or hiring someone who came in through one or more friends or colleagues, who would you rather hire?

How do we build connections into relationships? It takes time, but it happens by making networking a two-way street. Social media affords us the opportunity to build an identity online. It is only natural, then, that if we are sharing strategically and authentically, we're going to make connections with people with whom we share affinities. It's another reason to fill in that LinkedIn profile: you never know who you'll meet who worked for Company X before or after you did. It's another reason to add, say, your "fly-fishing" obsession to your "Interests" section. You just never know who's going to spark to it. Conversations get started based on shared interests and shared experiences. And conversations blossom into relationships. And to keep relationships going, we have to support them with information, advice, and introductions to others with similar or complementary affinities. Yes, it can be a lot of work. But it's more fun and ultimately more productive than applying and being shot-down for the umpteenth job application.

4. Content Is Context
A question that I get all the time from Boomers is "Why should I do this? What do I get out of all this frenzied posting and sharing and tweeting? What does this have to do with getting a job?" We were raised to understand that our resume and our references were the tools that we needed to get a good job. That's still true, except that today, this all takes place socially, and on a huge scale. "Content is context" means that what we post online, and the others with whom we connect and interact in our social networks, are the context, the background from which emerges the perception of who we are and what value we provide -- and can provide to an employer, a partner, a client. Building that body of content across your chosen social media platforms is crucial to establishing your presence, keeping it current, and accurately representing yourself in an otherwise very busy, very noisy world. In an ideal world, your work should speak for you, but in the real world, you have to speak for you work.

These four rules aren't the last word on social media "how to," but they're one strategy to ease us into the process if we have delayed our entry into the digital economy.

In today's flat-hierarchy, fast-paced, highly collaborative team-based environments, being the right "fit" is as important, or even more important, than the skills you list on your resume. If your online presence and social media profile reflect a diverse, active background, and an engaged real-time presence -- sharing interests, ideas, trends, solutions and answers -- you are more likely to attract the interest and the support of people who think like you do. These are the people who are most likely going to be able to connect you to an opening, or a client or a business opportunity.

So get to work. Do your research: look up your friends or colleagues and see how they're using the platforms you're interested in. See how organizations are using their company or fan pages to promote their products and engage with customers. Remember that social media is... social. Be actively engaged in an evolving conversation about your topics and themes. You'll quickly get a sense of how your message, your personality and your style can fit in on the various platforms you're interested in, and establish the social media cornerstone to your encore career.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

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