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How to Look Professional on a Social Network for Business

You should dress up your profile the way you dress yourself for success in the workplace. At a bank or other traditional organization, a man’s profile picture may include a suit and tie (or at least, a dress shirt and tie), but it may be perfectly appropriate for a software developer at a startup to be pictured in a T-shirt and jeans. In most any business, it would be inappropriate to post photos of yourself half-drunk or half-naked.

Employees shouldn’t use their corporate network as a platform for their personal partisan political beliefs (disconnected from the company’s interests in regulation or policy). Of course, it’s always possible to think of exceptions (such as the magazine publisher who celebrates immaturity or the activist at a partisan political consulting firm). The point is that you need to make yourself look professional according to the standards of your industry.

The things to avoid ought to be obvious, but you can boost your professional profile within the company by doing a few other things right.

Flesh out your profile

Along with your account on the collaboration network, your profile may have been prepopulated with some basic data: your name, title, e-mail address, phone number, and place in the org chart according to corporate personnel records. Or your profile may start as a blank slate, with only your name filled in. You want your profile to be more than the bare minimum details, though.

Just as you want to be able to find people within the company who have specific experience and expertise, you want to make yourself easy to be found by others when you have something to offer them. A good employee profile shows personality, areas of expertise, contact info, and a brief bio. Your photo should be good enough that those who connect with you online will also recognize you if they pass you in the hallway.

Answer questions

If you want to establish yourself as an expert or authority on any topic, pay attention to relevant questions and provide knowledgeable answers. In addition to making a good impression on whoever posted the question, your answers help build your reputation as a go-to person for questions on that topic. Anyone who searches on that topic will see the trail you’ve left.

Share useful information

Just as on public social networks, some of the people who add the most value are those who share interesting news articles, opinion columns, or videos, adding a few sentences of their own commentary. Share what you find interesting and useful. Be sure to include a note or a question making clear why it is relevant to your business. At a minimum, those who follow your posts will find out more about what interests you and will share more relevant content with you.

Join the right groups

Often the subcommunities of a business network are more useful than the company-wide community.

Membership in some groups may be automatic or required based on your participation in a project or your job role. Others are optional, topical groups. Groups provide an opportunity to connect with people with similar interests or expertise, as well as teams focused on specific projects, functions, or initiatives. In addition to interacting through the group, you may decide to connect with some of its members individually, and they may seek to connect with you.

You find groups by searching for them or by paying attention to the group memberships of your best contacts. If you search for an interest group that ought to exist but doesn’t, consider starting one by contacting community managers and IT administrators.

Have fun while showing respect for the workplace

Even at work, social networking ought to be fun. Some businesses in conservative industries prefer that all conversation on the network should be work-related. Posting a joke or a link to a review of the movie you saw over the weekend probably wouldn’t get you fired, but it would be frowned upon. Other organizations allow the occasional, casual post in the hope that building personal connections between employees pays off by creating a more cohesive organization and stronger teams.

Regardless of your industry, you should not only read the official policy on what's permissible on the collaboration network but also “take the temperature” of the environment by paying attention to what others post.

Show respect for the norms of your workplace, whether you agree with them or not, but try to be engaging within that framework. Here are some guidelines that should apply to most organizations:

  • Show enthusiasm for work activities. In all cases, showing enthusiasm for your work is a good thing, as is giving praise to subordinates or peers who do a good job.

  • Take a natural, casual approach. Behave like a human, not like a machine that cranks out links to sales reports.

  • Use good judgment. Posting pictures of your team having fun at work or celebrating their achievements at an after-work party is probably a good thing, if the photos are in good taste.

  • Look for opportunities to show you have a sense of humor. This doesn't mean you should post jokes, but slipping a bit of appropriate, observational humor into the end of a post or a comment shows creativity.

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