When it comes to finding customers, clients, or even a job, I think we’re all pretty much convinced on the value of LinkedIn. But what about the rest of the social media universe? Does Facebook really matter? How about Twitter?

All social networks impact your professional success and that of your company, says Peter Shankman, speaker, entrepreneur and author of Nice Companies Finish First. “There is no divide between your public life and your private life,” said Shankman, speaking at a networking event hosted by High-Tech Connect, a specialized marketing consulting firm. As a member of the audience, my first thought was, “Ugh. Seriously? Now I need to sell myself to my Facebook friends and family?”

Well, no. To Shankman, selling is out and helping, or being “nice,” is in. And the way you build "nice" into your personal brand is with social networking. Then he exhorted the audience to put their social networks to work with a challenge that turned out to be not so hard--once I tried it.

What’s Nice Got to Do With It?

"I've never seen the value in being an asshole,” said Shankman. In fact, the opposite is true: Being nice has real worth in dollar terms. Shankman estimates that nice companies make 30 to 40 percent more than not nice companies.

If nice works for big companies, it can work for you, too. Shankman’s main message was that being nice can and will set you apart from your competition. That’s why your personal reputation with your social network, both online and off, really, really matters. Social media makes it easy for potential clients, partners and managers to learn about you and form an opinion about you. Remember, people hire people but before they do, they do their online homework.

About a year ago, I met with the partner of a personal financial management firm to discuss a website project. Toward the end of our meeting, he surprised me by asking about my experience playing lacrosse. That little bit of information about me was on my LinkedIn profile but not anywhere on my own website, so someone had clearly taken the time to do a some research. That little incident shows very clearly that I am no longer in control of what a potential client knows about me.

Try This at Home

My experience supports Shankman’s contention that social media is the starting point and main information source in many professional relationships. That’s why it’s so important that our personal brands are infused with “goodness.” Where to start? With your own social media network. Hundreds of Facebook friends or LinkedIn connections don’t mean a thing if you’re not actively being friends or connecting with them.

As Shankman says, “The idea that you're friends with someone just because you went to second grade together is bullsh*t. Your network is all you have and it’s only as strong as your weakest link. That weakest link is the person you haven’t bothered to say hi to in six months. Why are they in your network?”

Shankman challenged us to do the following: “Go home and go onto Facebook and find five or six people that you have not talked to in six months and either start a conversation on their wall or unfriend them.”

So I went home and tried it. First, I went back to my through Facebook mail, which included a note from someone I knew in the 4th grade but had been ignoring for months. She had reached out to me after she heard my name while reading a Forbes article about Steve Jobs. It turns out that my friend has a master’s degree in multimedia journalism. That immediately put our connection on a professional footing.

Responding to a connection and reaching out are good first steps in building an online reputation for niceness.  Once you make those connections, keep them up by doing the following:

Keep track of your connections in the media and send notes when you see them profiled, quoted or mentioned. Shankman mentioned two tools to help you with this task: Newsle.com and Prepwork.com. Newsle.com keeps track of media mentions of your Facebook friends or LinkedIn connections. Prepwork.com sends out a daily e-mail that briefs you on the people you're meeting with that day, including highlights from their LinkedIn profiles, recent blog posts and Twitter activity.

Share articles, blogs or other items that might be of interest. I might not hear back from someone when I do this, but I have had the frequent experience of running into people and having them say, “Oh thanks for sending me that article. It was really interesting.”

Think of what you might do to help someone in your network, or just ask. This simple gesture will set you apart from the crowd.

Remember the Don’t Be Stupid Rule: If you’re going to a bar or other personal event you don’t want chronicled on Facebook, leave your phone in your car or at home so you won't be tempted to post. And remember, others are watching -- and posting or tweeting. “Everything is fair game,” warned Shankman.

There’s no saying where all this connecting will lead, but somewhere unknown is certainly better than nowhere at all. And, on the way you’ll be building your reputation for being good, helpful and nice--a reputation that, as Shankman says, will help you get there first. --Emily Brower Auchard

A version of this story originally appeared on One Thing New, the digital media company that is rebooting women's content.