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From the Desktop of Lori Charest, Vice President, Employment Branding

February 15

"Overcoming the Fear Factor in Social Networking"

We have embraced social media. We blog, we wiki, we tweet, we Yammer, we LinkIn, we Facebook (and even if those aren't all verbs, they could be). We share information and debate new strategies to integrate social media and employment marketing. It's just who we are and how we communicate today.

But outside these virtual walls, my conversations with friends and family are on a more practical level. "Why should I be on Facebook? I don't want everyone to know my life. And Twitter? I just don't get it at all." Maybe it's the age thing (read: old), but in many cases, the idea of actively participating in Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter is a bit overwhelming and frightening.

I understand that fear completely. Stepping outside of your comfort zone is a bit overwhelming. Participating in a new communication landscape is challenging. But it's also rewarding. If you're trying to decide the best way to dip your personal or corporate toes into the social networking waters, here's what I've found to be effective.

1. "Google" yourself...often.

If you haven't "Googled" yourself lately, do it now. Are you comfortable with the information that comes up? Yes, there's some public content you can't control (and no, there's nothing you can do about those 2,000 other people who share your name, or similar names); however, you can control your own visibility within social networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Social networks rank high in the search engines, but all of them give you the ability to "opt out" or restrict public search results when you set up your personal profile.

2. Pick one site and get started.

I suggest starting by setting up a profile on LinkedIn and/or Facebook (Twitter is for advanced swimmers). LinkedIn is the place for professional networking, with 40 million users http://blog.linkedin.com/2007/07/25/ten-ways-to-use/. But you can't beat Facebook when it comes to personally connecting with friends, family and colleagues. It's easy to set up your profile, add content, and share photos — and yes, you can even check out your friends from high school, but only if they allow it.

3. Categorize your Facebook friends — they'll thank you for it.

Last week my father asked me, "Lori, can I de-friend someone on Facebook without hurting their feelings?" Turns out he wanted to de-friend his own granddaughter! Those hourly status updates that she sends are great for her close friends, but far too much information for her grandfather.

The main message here is that you don't need to de-friend someone if you're not interested in hearing everything they want to divulge. Instead, keep your friends, but regulate the type of information you share and receive. Begin by simply segregating your friend lists and applying different privacy settings to them. Create a best friends list, a family list, a professional list, etc. To that end, consider the same strategy for photo sharing — save the fun vacation photos for close friends, but share your presentations from last month's conference with your professional network.

For step by step instructions on controlling your privacy settings on Facebook, check out this post by Nick O'Neill on allfacebook.com: http://www.allfacebook.com/2009/02/facebook-privacy/.

4. It's OK to say no — not everyone needs to be your friend or follower.

You don't have to be virtual friends with everyone — it's okay to be selective. When communicating on social communities for personal reasons, it's important to remember that the quality of the relationships — not the quantity of your friends or size of your network — is what counts. Don't get me wrong, in some situations the size and strength of the network matters — for example, acknowledged leaders in their field, bloggers, organizations and company profiles, and public causes, to name a few. But even Ashton Kutcher — who actively campaigned against CNN's Larry King to be the first person with 1 million Twitter followers — follows only 149 people.

5. Is there an "app" for that?

Has someone sent you a smile request? Shared a virtual Starbucks? Invited you to take the "what songs shaped your life" quiz? Social networks and their open platforms empower developers to create all kinds of viral "apps" or applications — some are just fun, others are designed as marketing tools, and another group provides an opportunity to reveal a little more of your true personality. The apps, like everything else, are optional, so pass along the ones you like and ditch those you don't.

6. Twitter Etiquette

More than any other social network, Twitter has spawned a language, protocol and culture of its own. Maybe it's the 140 character limit, maybe it's the real-time updates. Whatever the magical makeup, before you start dashing off updates — or tweets, as they are called — take the time to understand the Twitter code: @replies, re-tweets, hash tags, and tiny URLs, for starters. Then start following your friends, personalities and organizations with whom you have relationships to get a feel for what interests you. Inspecht's guide to Twitter http://inspecht.com.au/wp-content/uploads/Using_Twitter_HR_Recruitment.pdf offers a good Twitter overview for any use.

Yes, social media is a vast (and sometimes scary) world, but it is also an unmatched, exciting tool that actually helps you do your job. As a recruiter, owning your online presence is a vital part of staying competitive. Your first step: join. Avoidance is no longer an option. Social media has changed, and will continue to reshape, the way we communicate with everyone from our friends and coworkers to our business network and prospective employees.

As recruiters and HR professionals, understanding how others communicate will allow you to actively engage your target audience and add credibility to your employment brand. The ever-changing digital social space is actually a good thing — it gives you an ample set of new tools at your disposal. Use them responsibly and make sure to keep your online message both visible and transparent. Tired yet? Yearning for the days of the help wanted ads? Well, there's good news (about the technology of today). Information and planning are readily available to help you understand and harness every "next thing" out there.

Questions? Comments? Email me at lori.charest@tmp.com. TMP hosts frequent regional events to inform you about the digital and social media landscape, about what's new, what's next, and how to participate in that conversation. For more information on our upcoming regional events, contact your TMP representative or email wecanhelp@tmp.com.

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