The six commandments of social networking at work

Businesses ignore the technology at their peril. Naïve use is just as risky. Get savvy with this guide to professional social tech use

It can be easy to disregard social networking's professional potential if you're only going on what you see on television. Between endlessly replayed clips where hysterical young men beg everyone to leave Britney Spears alone and the eyebrow-raising antics that a MySpace pinup performs on "A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila," it's understandable that many businesspeople are tempted to write off MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter as career-killers and some I IT leaders consider pulling the plug on social networking use within the business.

However, social networking sites and tools don't have to be synonymous with Tila Tequila -- and for the emerging generation of professionals, they're not. When KRC Research surveyed so-called Millennials -- people aged 18-27 -- 40 per cent of them expected to have access to social networking Web sites. And one's social profile may actually improve one's employability: Recently, blogger Tom Foremski observed that software developers and marketing professionals become more employable when they enjoy a significant professional footprint online.

There's a place in the office for social networking -- so long as you follow our commandments below.

1. Thou shalt present yourself respectfully and honestly

"It's OK to show personality and good humor, but be careful with how far you take it," warns Brian Block, a communications account executive at staffing consultancy Pierpoint. After all, your online profile in sites like LinkedIn or Facebook is the digital counterpart to your resume.

Because so many people use their Facebook or Twitter accounts to manage both personal and professional aspects of their lives, this can lead to some tricky situations. Take, for example, vacation photos. It's not just your mom looking at pictures of you at the Grand Canyon anymore.

Employment lawyer Ron Solish says that when deployed correctly, vacation photos can be shared with your personal circle while burnishing your professional profile. If the vacation demonstrates talents or features that employers find attractive -- such as world traveling or mastering a complicated skill -- then post them.

But, he warns, "You should not post photos of yourself or others that paint you or others in an unprofessional light."

Similarly, you should also remember to be mindful of any text missives that could come back to haunt you. Block points out, "Your status updates do not have to be suitable for 'Bartlett's Familiar Quotations,' but think twice before posting what a rotten day you are having. HR may see it as a red flag."

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Lisa Schmeiser

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