Social media lets you remain connected with people you otherwise might have fallen out of touch with. Sometimes these can be very casual contacts -- people you only infrequently interact with -- while other times you might become even closer with someone by learning about shared interests.
Sites including Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Twitter (NYSE TWTR), and LinkedIn (which is owned by Microsoft), let you create bonds with people. That could mean finding out someone you met at a business conference also loves Bruce Springsteen, or has the same favorite television show as you.
No matter how you connect on social media, the people you know online can help you in real life. You can leverage those connections to do anything, from figuring out where to eat when you visit a new city to helping you land your next job.
Before asking for something on social media from your friends/connections, you should establish yourself as helpful. Answer other people's questions and help out whenever possible. If you can make a work connection for someone else or help them land an interview, do so.
If you're an active part of your community it makes it easier to ask for help yourself. Be willing to put yourself out there and try to actively help others when you don't need anything in return. Basically, be a good citizen and build up credibility for when you need to use it.
Activate your network
If you're broadly looking for a job (and aren't worried about a current employer finding out) go public with your search. Tell your network what you're looking for and ask for help making connections. Be specific. It's better to post "I'm looking for a pharmaceutical sales position for someone with seven years of experience" than "I'm looking for a job."
If there are specific people you know through social media that might be able to help you, reach out personally. Send a brief message with your request, making it clear that it's fine if they can't help you.
Use platforms appropriately
Facebook and Twitter are broad social platforms. They are places where you can put the word out and where you can communicate with people you may actually know in real life. They're not platforms built around getting a job -- that's where LinkedIn comes in.
LinkedIn is specifically built around jobs. It not only has actual job ads, but it's a place where you might be able to leverage your connections to meet people at companies you may want to work with.
Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and that it makes it clear you're either looking for work or at least are open to opportunities. Work to build your network, and ask your connections for help meeting the people who might hire you.
Put yourself out there
Most people like to help others succeed. Making an introduction or tipping you off about an upcoming opening lets them be a hero without having to do very much.
Your network can only help you, however, if you make it clear you need help. That can be hard for many people to do, but it's part of how social media works.
Be a proactive member of your networks who goes the extra mile for your friends. Never ask for something you would not be willing to do for someone else, and always be gracious and say thank you, whether the person you ask helps you our not.
Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Daniel B. Kline owns shares of Facebook and Microsoft. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Facebook and Twitter. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.