Avoiding perils while establishing your professional network online

This article first appeared in GSABusiness.

I have received numerous emails over the past few weeks for companies purporting to clean up my image online. I feel pretty sure that they have never actually looked at the information about me that’s online. These firms offer to survey my reputation, finding and eliminating anything that might harm my opportunity to do business with reputable companies. That must be a lost cause. Google, Yahoo, and their search engine brethren, along with the Internet Wayback machine make removing things from the internet nearly impossible. I don’t know what these companies really could do for me, but I think a better strategy might be to make sure that I am regularly generating helpful information about myself and posting that to the internet myself.

The good news is that there are several quality places you can post information to the internet about yourself. Not only can those places help to establish or enhance your reputation online, they can set the tone for conversations you might have in real life. Being a technology afficianado, I headed to these networks pretty early and have had a chance to field test them. Although not everyone uses the networks, I have been lucky with them. More than once, I’ve walked into a meeting with someone I had never met before and had them say “We haven’t met, but I’ve read about your work on the Internet…” It allowed us to get down to the business of our business much quicker. We bypassed the time normally spent establishing credentials. So, how can you get started in establishing an online reputation?

First, realize that there are a number of online networking websites to choose from. The ones you are most likely to have heard of are MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I have listed them in what I think are the order of their popularity. Let’s consider each in order.

MySpace may be the best known of all the social networking sites, especially since Rupert Murdoch spent $580 Million for it in 2005. The site boasts over 75 million users and is the darling of what appears to be a youth oriented demographic. Today’s front page says that over 75,000 videos have been uploaded today and that the most popular are of “a gas powered blender” and a “crazy dog climbing a ladder.” A quick visit to the front page on any given day will let you know that this may be a fun website to visit, but it is unlikely to enhance your career. Try this link at work ( www.MySpace.com) if the website is unreachable, you are not alone. MySpace is the leading social networking site most likely to be blocked by company based web filters. A report by Barracuda Networks says that 44% of their customers have identified the site as a time waster and blocked it from company desktops. Let’s keep looking.

Next up in order of popularity is Facebook. Launched in 2004 by a couple of Harvard students, Facebook is a relative newcomer to the social networking scene and most that time was aimed at college students. The requirement of a college issues email address in order to register an account has only recently been dropped. Some of Facebook’s early adopters have graduated, however, and the network has matured with them. The site now even allows third party application developers to write little programs that will live inside of Facebook web pages. The programs include network maps, games, and a whole lot of silliness, but there is a business component of facebook as well. Many professional organizations have groups inside of Facebook, and you can connect with peers there. Still Facebook is mostly about fun and pranks and may not feel like a work related activity. That leaves us with…

LinkedIn was built from the ground up as a Professional Network of working professionals. At this writing, over 15 million people have filled out a profile on LinkedIn. Once you have entered your profile on LinkedIn, you can then connect with other people you know and let them know what types of relationships you are interested in exploring professionally. Looking for new vendors, investors, or employees? Chances are you can make a connection with the people you are looking for on LinkedIn. We are inherently social animals, and modern travel and communications means each of us can interact on a regular basis with more people than our forefathers were likely to meet in a lifetime. We use PDAs, Blackberries, Outlook, and other electornic means just to keep track of the people we “know.” LinkedIn takes the electronic version of that Rolodex and allows you to compare and connect with other people you know. Next time, I’ll talk about how to build a killer profile on LinkedIn and how to use it to make the business connections you need.

About Phil Yanov

Phil Yanov is a Technologist, Columnist and Public Radio Commentator.

He is the founder of Tech After Five as well as the founder and President of the GSA Technology Council and the IT Leadership Council.

His personal technology column appears in Greenville Business Magazine and the Columbia Business Journal.

He co-hosts the Your Day technology shows heard on NPR radio stations across South Carolina and is a frequent contributor to technology stories appearing on radio and television.