We've all heard the horror stories about how social media can keep you from getting hired. One misconstrued joke or an embarrassing picture might cause a hiring manager to go in another direction.
Social media, however, can also be an asset. It can help you make meaningful connections that might get you your next job or help you in your current one. To make that happen, you need to take an active role in making your social media work for you.
That doesn't mean you can't post cute pictures of your cat or ones of that fabulous meal you are about to eat. Instead, it's about making connections that may organically help you down the line.
1. Know your social media
Facebook is the most personal of the social media platforms. It's the place where you connect with family, friends, and people you share something in common with. If you "friend" a colleague or business associate on this platform, do it because you have things in common -- like sports, entertainment interests, shared social views, or something else worth connecting over.
Twitter is more of a broad platform. In general, it's OK to cast a wider net, but you still want to be a little careful when it comes to friending people who may be offended by what you post, like, or share.
For all other connections, use LinkedIn. This is a business platform, and you should limit your sharing to work-related subjects.
2. Become actual friends
You don't want your social media relationships to be about you asking for stuff. Instead, it's important to make actual connections. If you bond with someone over your mutual love of Bruce Springsteen, then it's more natural for him or her to offer help when you need it.
You should also be generous with your own time and efforts. If someone posts a request you can help with, do the best you can. People will notice that and may be more willing to offer aid when you need something.
3. Activate your network
Sometimes you know who to ask for help or advice, and a private message makes sense. In other cases, you may have no idea if anyone you know through social media may have the answer you seek.
For example, a couple of years ago I was working on a story about a popular coffee chain and its top policies. I asked my network for help; one person volunteered that she had worked there and shared first-hand information. A second person had a friend in the company and made an introduction.
Both were people I knew reasonably well but had no idea they would be able to help in this situation. Sometimes just asking broadly will get you what you need.
Social media relationships are a way to get a small leg up. Asking for an introduction or some information is reasonable, but don't push too far. Your actual friends may be willing to go above and beyond for you, but people who like you mostly because you post funny memes or adorable baby pictures might not be as willing.
Try to never put someone in a position where he or she is uncomfortable. Think about your level of comfort and dial it a bit back from there.
Broad requests are fine. Posting "can anyone introduce me to someone who can help me get my foot in the door with a professional sports team" allows people in your network to choose to offer (or not offer) help. A direct message to someone you know can help (but don't know all that well) is a step too far.
Be a good social media citizen and be an asset to everyone you know. Put yourself out there and be as helpful as you can. In most cases, that will be rewarded as other people will take the same attitude toward you.