Ask a consultant

  • Updated: May 4, 2008 - 11:03 PM

Q With the proliferation of professional networking websites such as LinkedIn and Pulse Plaxo, what can you share about how to maximize the value of these sites for creating and maintaining professional connections?

SALLY MAINQUIST, PRESIDENT/CEO, CERTES FINANCIAL PROS

A We are in the midst of a powerful wave of Internet use generically referred to as social networking. Sites that offer these applications enable communities of people to interact without traditional constraints such as geographical distance and national boundaries. Sites range from strictly personal to strictly business, but can mix the two.

Often, the business-oriented social networking sites tout the benefits of quickly connecting with past and current colleagues, customers, clients and suppliers for building business bases and finding new career opportunities. If you know someone on the network, and they know someone you want to know, they can facilitate the connection.

However, there are significant downsides to consider. First, you are often asked to enter extensive personal information. In the real world, we tend to be selective about what information we reveal to specific individuals, whereas online, information cannot only spread equally to all you intend, but to unintended recipients. And attacks aimed at the sites' databases can lead to loss of control of your information. Finally, these sites may not only target you with advertising, they might sell your information to third parties, who in turn target you. Read the terms of service and privacy policies and consider what happens if they are breached.

My advice is to clearly separate personal and business use (realizing that they might be aggregated anyway), and reserve business social networking for those careers where creative and broad connections are essential, such as sales. For other purposes, individual e-mails, the telephone and lunch meetings yield richer contacts and better control over personal information.

BRADLEY S. RUBIN, PH.D. ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, GRADUATE PROGRAMS IN SOFTWARE UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS OPUS COLLEGE OF BUSINESS

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