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If your friends haven't urged you to join Facebook in the past few months, don't worry. Someone will bring it up soon. People have been joining in droves, and someone is sure to ask you to come on board as well. But is it worth your time? Can Facebook, or any large social network for that matter, have any meaningful impact on your career?
They certainly can if you end up working for one. Social networks and
online communities are growing so quickly that it makes sense
to consider perfecting your Web 2.0 development skills and
looking at them as a career opportunity.
LinkedIn (14 million users)
There are fewer people on LinkedIn than other social networks, but they're the right people. This well-crafted site is designed solely to help you make professional connections. It's so serious that until recently you couldn't even post a photo of yourself. Submit your resume and skills, state your intentions (looking to hire, looking to be hired, looking for freelance work, etc.), import your address book to find colleagues who are already there - and start making connections.
Does it work? Some say it does. Janet Ryan, chief of advertising at TeeBeeDee.com, another social networking site, says she landed her job when the company's founder searched LinkedIn for a specialist to set up revenue operations just before the product launched. "By checking our mutual connections she was able to do a full reference check before we ever met, and I did the same on my end as well," Ryan recalls. "When we met in person it was like talking with an old friend, and we started working together immediately."
LinkedIn's search tools help find people like you, people who might need you, people you might need, and people who share your skills. The site also has a useful Q&A feature that lets you make your presence known by asking contacts specific career-related questions (and answering them, too). All this is free, and it's worth an hour of your time to get familiar with its look and feel.
Facebook (47 million users)
The social networking darling of 2007, Facebook's popularity exploded last year when it opened membership to everyone, not just the college students who gave it its start. In May, the site unlocked its application environment for outside developers, who responded by creating more than 5,000 mini-apps (so far) to make it more fun and useful. Now millions of people are joining each month.
Once you have a few dozen friends lined up, you'll find Facebook is an engaging, if not terribly useful, place to visit. The running feed on your main page tells you what everyone you know is up to, and you can report on your own activities - telling everyone, for example, that you're finishing an assignment, or looking for a new job, or learning a new skill. That could prove helpful if you're trying to make your career intentions known.
Facebook will get a lot more interesting for professionals if, as rumors suggest, it eventually lets users separate personal and professional relationships. Filtering out all the fun chatter and using the power of the platform to assist your career development could make Facebook an important professional tool. For now, cave in to the peer pressure and establish a Facebook identity. Even if it doesn't become a big part of your day, it's vital to understand what it's all about and why so many people are gravitating toward it. As Hong Kong-based technology expert Hugo DesRosiers puts it, "I've been on Facebook for just three or four months and have gotten lots of connections from people all over. It hasn't done much for me professionally, but it's relaxing to look at pictures and see what my far-flung friends are doing."
And if you're a programmer with an entrepreneurial streak, consider developing your own Facebook mini-app, posting it at the site, and incorporating some Google ads into it. Maybe you'll make a few bucks.
Friendster (48 million users)
Been there, done that, walked away. Hot in 2003, the first big social network failed to evolve fast enough and was left in the dust of newer competitors. You won't make professional connections here, but you may find a date.
MySpace (200 million users)
Your kids are probably enjoying it, and its success is undeniable, but MySpace isn't a grown-up environment. There are all sorts of tools for creative self-expression, but they mainly appeal to 16-year-olds. The time you spend here may be fun, but it won't benefit your career.
Roll Your Own Social Network
Another way to use social networking to your professional advantage is to create your own mini-network and populate it with people with whom you've enjoyed success in the past. Ning, a build-your-own social network service co-founded by Netscape founder Marc Andreessen, gives you the tools to set up your own little LinkedIn or Facebook. Just follow the template and consider creating a club for former employees of the company you used to work at. People usually enjoy reconnecting with old acquaintances, and you can update each other on where you are and what you're doing. As friends invite other friends, you may discover you've reconnected with dozens of potentially valuable contacts you thought were lost forever.Don Willmott is a New York City-based journalist who focuses on Internet and technology trends.
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