So you've been thinking about taking the plunge and joining one of the social network sites (SNSs) or boosting the ROI of your current online networking efforts? Last week, in Part 1, I talked about using social networks to (1) expand your business development and (2) leverage your brand. Here's more advice on ways to make the most of your SNS presence.

3. Accelerate your sales cycle.
Social networking sites can turn up the heat on your sales cycle, creating warm leads faster. Philadelphia-based business strategist Bill Ringle notes that the connections and referrals he's established online provide a level of assurance for potential clients. "When a potential client saw that I had multiple referrals and hundreds of connections, it automatically shifted the conversation" to a more trusted plane, he explains. Ringle cautions soloists to be realistic and focused in their online efforts. "Social networking sites won't necessarily help you win a contract, but they can take you to a deeper level faster in the conversation," he says. Ringle has joined three or four networks, but focuses his efforts on one primary service to gain the most ROI for his time – in his case, LinkedIn.

4. Avoid isolation and gain valuable "reality checks."
Many soloists turn to online networks as their digital water coolers --a way to share information and avoid the inevitable inertia that can plague even the most dedicated soloist from time to time. Social networks can link you to kindred soloists who can open your eyes to thinking more broadly about your business while providing perspective on your own achievements. SNSs can also leverage your traditional, in-person networking efforts. "Participating in social networks lets you avoid the dreaded business-cards-in-a-desk-drawer syndrome," says Bill Ringle, who invites individuals he would like to stay in contact with to join his LinkedIn network in the days immediately following their initial contact. "Now these contacts become part of my active online network," he adds.

5. Assess and reallocate, if necessary.
One last piece of advice for those worried about squeezing one more thing onto an overflowing To-Do list: Be willing to bail. "It's easy to get social media overload," says Patrice-Anne Rutledge, but an hour a week updating contacts, adding to your profile or posting news can be remarkably effective, she adds. If the ROI doesn't emerge after a few months of experimenting, reallocate your time and energy elsewhere. "People shouldn't feel bad for saying, 'OK, this isn't working for me," comments Rutledge.

The bottom line: Social networks can be a valuable business networking tool, and soloists need to match their efforts with specific business goals. In what other ways have you found social networking sites useful?

Terri Lonier is founder of and has been networking in both analog and digital modes for a very long time.