With Facebook at Work on the cards, is online networking really useful?

We spend two hours a week on LinkedIn, but is it worth it?
News broke yesterday that Facebook is set to develop a new version of its social network – for the workplace. “Facebook at Work” will enable users to connect with contacts and communicate with colleagues, rivalling sites like LinkedIn and Google Plus.
A report by the FT said the site will look a lot like Facebook, “but will allow users to keep their personal profile separate from their work identity.” With over 1.35bn users, Facebook might unleash something huge. But is using online social networking in your professional life all it’s cracked up to be? And when is it most useful?

NOT SO LINKED IN?

We’ve all heard the conventional wisdom – sites like industry leader LinkedIn can help you get places in your work life. Your day-to-day network can balloon, vastly increasing your opportunities. But not all are convinced. One criticism is that those who use LinkedIn are actually the opposite – they resort to it because they’re not very well connected. On one level, this makes sense. Many top executives, for instance, haven’t even hit 500 connections – they’ve already made key contacts, and they’re busy. Speaking to Entrepreneur.com, one top TV boss said, “if I’ve never directly worked with you or if you’ve never directly worked for me, don’t bother sending me a connection request. It’s not gonna happen. I’ll just click ‘ignore.’”
Her point was that the mutual clicking of a button is just not the same as meeting someone face to face. Yes, you are acknowledging that person as a professional, and are allowing them to enter your network (and vice versa), but the connection can’t be equated to real-life interaction. And if you have had a successful face-to-face meeting with someone, you might not feel the need to connect with them via social media.

WHERE IT REALLY WORKS

But perhaps this isn’t a wholly fair assessment. Provided you’re choosy with your connections, says entrepreneur and author Neil Fogarty, you can easily use your online network to complement real-life meetings. And if you’re someone who contributes to groups, updates your profile and posts regularly, you’re constantly building awareness of yourself and your skills.
LinkedIn usage numbers certainly suggest people see value in what it offers. Company expert and researcher Wayne Breitbarth told Forbes earlier this year that 48 per cent of respondents were using LinkedIn for more than two hours a week, and the perceived importance of the site continues to grow, with 70 per cent of users (up from just 9 per cent last year) rating the site four or five out of five. Those who have the most favourable experiences are recruiters and job seekers – a sign of where it, and any current or would-be rival, really adds value.

UPFRONT AND HONEST

In fact, according to Viveka von Rosen, author of LinkedIn Marketing: An Hour a Day, a whopping 98 per cent of recruiters use LinkedIn to find candidates. So what can you do to up your chances?
Writing for Virgin, Fogarty reminds job seekers that first impressions are crucial. One, he says, remember your headline is your advert – so make it clear and punchy. And two, it’s vital to “have a great summary”. Too often, he says, people talk about their present company, rather than outline their own skills and interests.
Early Twitter hire Claire Diaz-Ortiz hammers home the importance of making a personalised request to make a lasting impression – “do NOT use the preset ‘I’d like to add you...’” This doesn’t mean tacking something on the end, she says, it means “writing a specific reason you want to connect and what you aim to gain from the connection.” This will not only make it more likely that you’ll be accepted, but it makes the connection meaningful – and if you are looking for new work opportunities, why not just be upfront about it?

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