THE BLOG
09/08/2014 06:05 pm ET Updated Nov 08, 2014

5 Tips for Professionals Navigating Social Media

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Whether you're looking for a new position, making a career move or just wanting to increase your own value within your existing role, social media such as Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook all provide powerful platforms to gain the visibility, credibility and access required to get to that next level.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 77 percent of employers now use social networking to recruit candidates, up from 34 percent six years ago. But it can be overwhelming if you're new to social media or if you only use it for fun -- and downright detrimental if you don't appreciate that there really is no "personal" divide when it comes to posting.

Here are five tips to help you thrive in the increasingly complex world of social media, and to stand out from the crowd in your area of expertise online:

1. Decide who you are (professionally)

What do you want to be known for? Define your area of expertise, own it, and then ensure that you brand yourself accordingly. Pick a professional headshot (or have one created), write a clear description of what you specialize in, and make it easy for people to understand the value you bring.

Please resist any visceral reactions to the notion of "being a brand" -- I know you're not Coca Cola. But like a brand, people need to be able to very quickly understand who you are in a professional sense, and whether they are curious enough to learn more.

2. Are you the Curator, the Commentator or the Creator?

The next question is -- as you work to position yourself as an expert, how are you creating value for your community?

Answer: you either create content (Creator), make meaning out of other people's content or topics (the Commentator), or read everything and aggregate the very best content (Curator). Most people are a combination of all three, but skew one way more heavily. Decide which suits you best, then begin creating value either in making meaning, or saving people's time as a trusted source of relevant materials.

Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin are all good channels to recommend content, but remember to add in the best searchable keywords, and to encourage as much participation as possible around the recommendation so you don't just become a links engine.

3. Don't be a Social Media Snob -- Get Connected and Recommended

Connect with the people you meet at work, at conferences, at networking events, over lunch. Don't agonize over whether it is appropriate to connect via social channels -- it is, and you never know how your paths might cross in the future to be valuable on both sides.

Another tip: Ask for recommendations on Linkedin. Recommendations on Linkedin are just like having inbound links to your site -- it increases the search visibility of your profile dramatically, making it much likely that you will be found when people are searching for specialists within your field.

4. Create Consistent Profiles across all Channels

Once you've settled on how you want to depict your bio, keep it consistent. Not identical (Facebook is always going to be more casual and fun than, say, Linkedin), just don't be dramatically different. It comes down to authenticity -- bridging the gap between who you are and what you do out there in the world. The 'real' you can't be too far from the 'business' you, or else it seems like an uncomfortable disconnect.

5. Be a Good Online Citizen and Give Back

Contribute to forums on Linkedin and Quora, and respond to blog posts, Facebook posts and related content. Tweet people directly, and respond directly to messages. Be a part of this world in a real way. Participate in group and page discussions, help out with your expertise any time you can. Give away what you know; reciprocity is the currency of the social web, which has a perfect accounting system.

Bonus tip: If you suspect You're over-sharing, then you probably are -- this is NOT your personal diary, even when it feels like it. I get it -- you're alone in your apartment and you have something you want to say. My company has recently grown exponentially in a very short time, and in this process, I have been truly astounded by what experienced professionals are prepared to post to social media, ranging from raging political, racial and religious opinions to private relationship matters. As a general rule of thumb, if you wouldn't say it to your boss or hiring manager, please don't post it -- expressing your every betrayed or angry feeling is something best left for a brunch with friends, and left out of your newsfeed. (Yes -- I've seen this particular one twice, and both times it included pictures).