Like it or not, social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are here to stay – and it isn’t just kid stuff anymore. In fact, businesses and individuals worldwide keep finding interesting ways to use social networks and other interactive online media to do some pretty amazing things – from building their brands to getting to know their customers.

Where do you stand in this new phase of the internet revolution, which many techies are calling “Web 2.0”? Perhaps you avoided it altogether…or you’re an addict…or you’re somewhere in between.

Like most technology, social networks and other social media tools are great resources but lousy masters. You could spend all day hopping around to different sites, updating your information, and connecting with people all over the world. But how does that add to your daily productivity?

Since it’s a brand new year, let’s take a look at how you’ve been wasting time online. Or perhaps you should be spending more time dipping your toes in the social media waters!

What is social media?

Don’t worry if you’ve never quite gotten your head around the term. Even the experts don’t have a great definition for it. Think of it this way: social media generally refers to web-based tools that help you connect with people and share information.

This means networking sites, such as LinkedIn and MySpace, as well as information sharing tools like blogs. Social media is really about connecting people with one another and/or information.

What’s the point?

There was a time when social media was just a novelty—something that people did just for the sake of doing it. The technology was new, and it was fun to connect with people and find new sources of information and new perspectives. (It can still be a lot of fun!)

The explosion of blogging created an environment where anyone could be a publisher and share their ideas for little or no cost. The advent of social networks gave individuals unprecedented access to one another; suddenly chatting with your old friends from college wasn’t limited to the class reunion.

And today, social media has evolved beyond being just a toy for tech-lovers. As more and more people get involved and the concepts become more mainstream, social media has also become more useful as a professional tool. For example, my favorites are:

• LinkedIn is a great site that allows you to create a professional profile and make business contacts online. Most users see the site as a relatively no-nonsense one, which makes it a great resource for building professional relationships and for reaching out to people that you’d like to meet virtually. I have 400+ contacts currently, all of whom I know personally and would do business with or refer to others. You can view my LinkedIn profile at

• Blogs, such as TypePad or WordPress (part of your site or not), have become a great way to share your expertise with the world and build your personal or corporate brand. My blog allows me to share productivity news and insights in an impromptu, informal way. That means my clients and those interested in productivity are more likely to be familiar with my work, my personality, and my qualifications.

• Twitter is a micro-blog, and has a concept that is perhaps the simplest of any of the social networking sites out there. Throughout the day, you post the answer to a straightforward question, which is “What are you doing?” Your updates (“tweets”) are limited to 140 characters. Others can elect to follow your updates and view your posts. Because of the no pressure, minimal approach, you’d be amazed at how quickly you can build your network on Twitter. It is a great, fast-paced way to meet people, keep up with your friends and colleagues, and build your personal brand online. You can follow my tweets at

• Facebook is a social networking site that allows you to create a personal profile which can be viewed by others. You can exchange messages, share photos, and even virtually “poke” your friends. I use Facebook more socially than professionally, mostly to keep in touch with family and friends. The site is easy to use and because it allows you to join groups (for example, your graduating class or your hometown or fan clubs), it’s surprisingly easy to connect with people you haven’t heard from in years. I have a Facebook presence and over 200 friends, but this group tends to be different than my LinkedIn group, which I try to reserve for professional networking. I use this one to update my buddies on my world and stay in touch. You still have to be careful, knowing anyone can see your posts.

I could go on about the different platforms that are out there, but that really isn’t the point. The thing to keep in mind is that there are a variety of sites available to you and that you need to pick and choose which make sense for you. My favorite is LinkedIn, where I can ask people in my network for introductions to people in their networks. I’ve gotten business from doors that have been opened by others for me.

Don’t spend a whole lot of time doing research or comparing sites. Go with your gut and start exploring what is out there. Some things you will like and see the value in, some you won’t. The best way to figure out what’s what is to experiment a little. These sites are extremely user-friendly and are designed to be intuitive. Generally speaking the site will ask you for your information as you go and help you get started. The best way to decide what appeals to you is to do some browsing online and try a platform or two to get your feet wet.

Laura, my feet are already wet. Now what?

Once you have accounts set up on one or more social platforms, there are a few things to keep in mind concerning the day-to-day activities associated with staying connected online:

• Keep up with it. Whether you are maintaining a social networking profile or your own blog, keep in mind that a neglected site gives a bad impression. Especially when networking professionally, information that is inaccurate or out of date is going to reflect badly on you. If people see, for example, that your LinkedIn page has been untouched for months, they just might assume that you are no longer a player at your company or in the industry.

• Censor yourself. For whatever reason, the internet has an odd way of releasing people’s inhibitions, and often not for the better. Especially if you are planning to tap social media for professional networking purposes, think about what you are putting out there! You really need to look at every post assuming that it will be read by your boss, coworkers, clients, your parents, your kids—anybody. If you already have a site that features some less-than-flattering content or images, now is the time to clean it up. Need more convincing? Social networks are increasingly becoming part of the hiring process at many companies. What would a potential employer find out about you if they put their mind to it? Would a prospect decide not to hire you based upon the attitude you exude on your page?

• Limit your social networking at work. The internet is one of the biggest enhancers of productivity in our lifetime, but it is also one of the biggest productivity drains. Social networks are no exception. Make sure you keep your social networking—whether that means reading blog postings, updating your profiles, or checking out other people—under control. Set proper boundaries for yourself. Some people simply can’t do this and waste inordinate amounts of time on social sites each day, leading some companies to block websites such as It really doesn’t take that much time to sit down once or twice a day to check in on things and make sure your communication is up-to-date, but it is extremely easy to find yourself wasting half the day doing it. There is limitless information out there and millions of people available to meet and interact with. Be sure to keep a handle on how much time you’re spending.

• Limit your social networking at home. Just by the nature of the beast, even if you use your social networks primarily for professional purposes, you’re going to end up having some fun, too. Just remember that even though there are countless interesting people out there in cyberspace, there are a handful of much MORE interesting people right under your nose, in your very own home. Don’t neglect the real people in your life because your busy interacting with the ones on your computer screen.

So get out there and start communicating. Once you’re up and running, see where it takes you! Just don’t let it take you out of the productivity zone.

Make it a productive day! (TM)

(C) Copyright 2008 Laura Stack. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

© 2008 Laura Stack. Laura Stack is a personal productivity expert, author, and professional speaker who helps busy workers Leave the Office Earlier® with Maximum Results in Minimum Time™. She is the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc., a time management training firm specializing in productivity improvement in high-stress organizations. Since 1992, Laura has presented keynotes and seminars on improving output, lowering stress, and saving time in today’s workplaces. She is the bestselling author of the books Find More Time (2006) and Leave the Office Earlier (2004). Her newest productivity book, The Exhaustion Cure (Broadway Books), hits bookstores in May 2008. To have Laura speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401. Visit to sign up for her free monthly productivity newsletter.