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Mixing Online Social Networking with Work

Should You Do It?

Mixing Online Social Networking with Work

By Caroline M.L. Potter, Yahoo! HotJobs

Social networking isn't really news, but its use in the workplace is.

According to a survey of human resources professionals by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement consulting organization, 59 percent of companies don't have a formal policy in place regarding the use of social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook, at the office, perhaps because nearly half of those polled said surfing these sites isn't a problem as long as employees are completing their work.

"Employers face the challenge of maintaining a productive workplace while allowing their employees access to sites that facilitate communication with a variety of resources," says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "More companies will be forced to address the issue as the number of workers using these sites continues to grow."

While perception is generally positive, one-third of those surveyed indicated that social networking sites are a "major drain on worker output." Nearly one-quarter of companies reported blocking access to the sites entirely, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

How can social networkers handle this technology at the office? Read on for five tips from career experts.

1. Use It

"I think it's a huge tool," says author Nicholas Aretakis. "I try to convey to recent graduates that employers actually want people who have the ability to market and sell through these massive networking sites. Whether it's used to launch an album, promote a book or sell another product, it's valuable to have these large distribution lists, to get invited to join groups, to find out what's hot and what's not."

Career strategist Daisy Swan concurs. "In terms of networking and finding out about career paths and to get a sense of different kinds of people and professional opportunities, I think it's fantastic," she says. "I'm all for the social networking sites because I believe there's so much you can learn. And if you want to be accessible to headhunters, it's great."

2. But Don't Abuse It

Social networking is a good thing -- but too much of any good thing can sometimes be bad. Experts caution workers to exercise restraint when accessing these sites at the office. "As an employer, I'd be incredibly disappointed if an employee were keeping a running tab on his whereabouts throughout the workday on any site," Swan says. "My perspective on that is that it's like taking personal calls all day long."

Aretakis advises adhering to your emloyer's protocol. "If there isn't one, just utilize it as you'd utilize your email or browsing the Net," he says. "If you're on for a short time, it's probably fine, but if you're spending more than half an hour of business time on social networking, it's probably not a good idea."

Swan adds that if you're in marketing or business strategy and social networking is part of your job, then you can justify your social media use. If not, keep it to a minimum.

3. Once You're a Professional, Keep It Professional

A lot of MySpace and Facebook users first created their profiles when they were students. And many of those students are now prospective employees. Edit out casual or crass content from your profile so you come across as a professional. "Always be aware that any social networking profile you're putting out there should be employer-worthy," Swan says. "Make certain you have a respectable page because these are used as references for anybody to look at."

Aretakis agrees that job seekers need to exercise discretion. "Instead of calling themselves 'hotsexybabe' or the like, they may want to adopt a more neutral handle and image," he says.

4. Be Aware of the Company You Keep

Fair or not, we're often judged by the people with whom we associate. Use caution when "friending" folks. Don't do so indiscriminately or you may wind up just a few clicks away from shady characters that can undermine your professional reputation.

Swan also urges social networkers to be careful about the groups they join. "If you're going to get involved with groups, those affiliations can be public," she says. "People can learn a lot -- or speculate a lot -- about you through the groups you join." If you want to control your image, she suggests managing your privacy options within each online network you join.

5. Watch What You Say

Because no privacy option seems unhackable these days, err on the side of caution when posting anything to your personal profiles. "You need to know what you're putting out there in terms of your messaging," Swan says. "Anything you wouldn't want everyone to hear you say? Don't put it on there."

Aretakis adds, "Don't put anything in writing that you wouldn't want the people in HR read. Even something said in jest could get you fired."

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