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7 Social Networking Tips for Professionals

Recent headlines read: Twitter Gets You Fired in 140 Characters or Less, Facebook Photo Convicts School Aide of Drinking Charge, and (Philadelphia) Eagles Fire Disabled Game-Day Employee for Facebook Comments.

It would be wise to heed the warning that these headlines project: be careful how you use social networking.

The way people communicate is changing. Status updates on social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn or tweets on Tweeter are often used instead of phone calls and e-mails.

Yet, according to business etiquette expert Barbara Pachter, author of NewRules@Work: 79 Etiquette Tips, Tools, and Techniques to Get Ahead and Stay Ahead (Prentice Hall Press), "People are so enthusiastic to keep up with technology, that they often don't consider the content of their posts. Professionals need to realize that nothing they say on the Internet is private. Social networking can be beneficial, but only when used properly."

Don't let social networking negatively affect your career. Here are 7 guidelines to follow.

1. Think before you post. Things you put on your sites can and will come back to haunt you. Any pictures you show or updates you write are public. Even if your account has privacy settings activated, your information is never completely secure. If you are questioning whether your post is appropriate, ask yourself, would you get into trouble if your boss saw it? If the answer is "yes," don't post it!

2. Make sure you have an online presence. Social networking sites are not just used by young professionals. You and/or your business need to stay up-to-date. Present and future clients, customers, business contacts, and potential employers will look you up. The information they find can affect their buying or hiring decisions. If you don't want others knowing certain things about you, keep in mind that you control what information you post.

3. Remember that your online presence is part of your professional image. The content on your social networking sites creates your online presence. Consider the image you want to portray. Look at your profile and ask yourself, "Would I want to do business with this person." Or "Would I hire this person?"

4. Follow company guidelines. Many companies have developed polices about employee social networking use during company time and even what company information is OK or not OK to share.

5. Do not post negative comments about your employer. Why would you bite the hand that feeds you? If you do have a gripe with your employer, talk to the appropriate person in your company.

6. Do not let social networking take over your life. Stay productive. Some people become so involved in updating their virtual presence that they let their other responsibilities slide.

7. Remember that phone calls and in-person visits are still an important part of doing business. It took four Facebook exchanges with a colleague to determine where and when to meet for lunch. If she had called me, the decision would have been made in seconds!

Barbara Pachter is a speaker, coach and author of numerous business books, including "The Power of Positive Confrontation" (paperback, Marlowe & Co.) and "When the Little Things Count" (paperback, Marlowe & Co.).

She specializes in business etiquette and communication for companies worldwide. Her client list features major organizations, including Microsoft, Pfizer, Chrysler, Cisco and Genentech.

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