Managing your online footprint

Navigating social media tools like LinkedIn and Facebook are key to your online presence.


At the October 2011 Career Smart Engineers Conference in Chicago, I gave a presentation on how an engineering firm can strengthen its brand and sales position through marketing programs that tap the power of digital and social media. However, during and after the conference, many of the questions I received focused on the use of various social media sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, for individual professional exposure. What the questions were really asking was how individuals could manage their online social media footprint. These are timely and important questions, so here I will provide general guidelines we all should follow when using social media to manage an online footprint and to strengthen a personal brand and exposure.

Should I have an individual LinkedIn profile? The short answer is: absolutely. LinkedIn is many things, but the primary use is to facilitate your online resume. For many clients, colleagues, and potential employers, it is the first stop in trying to get to know you, understand your background, and gain insight into your experience. Your first priority should be to make sure that your profile is clear and concise and reads as well as any resume or curriculum vitae (CV) that you would apply toward project proposals and career growth. Immediately after you have posted your profile, have colleagues and mentors review it for readability and advise you if you have left out any significant experience, skill, or accomplishment. You also may want to ask them to “recommend you.”  

Should I make a lot of LinkedIn connections? Having a profile ois just the beginning. Once you have posted the profile, be “selectively proactive” in making connections or “links” to other individuals. LinkedIn will automatically make suggestions based on your background. As you add new connections, others will seek to add you to their network. However, the goal is not to have a large quantity of connections, but to have quality contacts who provide strategic, substantive interactions with you and who strengthen your reputation. The more selective you are in making connections, the more efficiently and effectively LinkedIn will work for you.

How many LinkedIn groups should I join? Groups can help you network with peers, both online and in person. Most groups are geared toward professional pursuits, while some focus on educational background. Consulting engineers have the opportunity to share information, learn about education opportunities, or discuss code issues with others at the Consulting-Specifying Engineer group, for example.

How often should I update my LinkedIn profile? At a minimum, update quarterly. You should include job changes and promotions, speaking opportunities, articles published with links, volunteer roles in professional organizations, training, and professional certifications. If you desire to be viewed as a thought leader, consider the occasional link to thought-provoking articles or materials. Don’t overdo it—you don’t want to “wear out” your contacts. And, ask for feedback on the value of the material you post.

Should I “friend” work colleagues or clients on Facebook? This answer is not so straightforward.  While I am inclined to tell you no, the answer is … it all depends. Only you can decide how comfortable you are with your professional colleagues and clients having access to what gets posted on your Facebook page. Personally, I have decided to keep LinkedIn for my professional relationships and Facebook for my personal relationships. This way, I don’t have to worry if a professional colleague or client will be offended by my friends posting a silly or embarrassing picture, a controversial political statement, or an off-color comment. As Dr. Amy Smith mentioned in her November 2011 Career Smart article, knowing your boundaries is a critical tenet in building better relationships.

Can employers see my Facebook profile? Yes. In addition to running credit and background checks and verifying references, prospective employers increasingly are tracking your “online footprint,” or profiles you may have on any social media sites. So, if you are exploring your employment options or aspire to a high-profile role in your company, consider this rule of thumb: Don’t post anything that would embarrass you in front of your mom.

To learn more about this topic, please connect with the author on LinkedIn.

Sidebottom is the owner of AMK LLC, a management and marketing consulting firm that provides market development and growth expertise to small- and medium-size firms. She has 20 years of management and leadership experience in both consulting engineering and Fortune 100 organizations. Sidebottom is a graduate of the University of Maryland.

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