I love social media.

I love it because anyone in the world can find and learn about me in a few seconds -- and that includes prospective clients. People can quickly and easily discover what we have in common and why we might click if we worked together. Finding that common connection via social media is far more interesting and compelling than meeting a stranger for an hour or giving a formal presentation.

Every day I connect with a business prospect or client on Facebook over something that has nothing to do with business. People can discover that I’m more than an entrepreneur and novice column writer. I’m a Japanese-American California girl married to a Jewish engineer from Brooklyn. A mother of three children immersed in soccer, football, hip hop dance, drama and other high school and college activities. I may find out that my business prospects is another angst-ridden parent waiting for college acceptance letters to arrive or a  soccer mom checking in from the sidelines during yet another tournament. And sometimes we’re alumni from the same college, trying to mentor young graduates.

Social networks let us find the “soccer” topic or the “kid” topic that sparks a common connection. From there it’s easy to start a relationship and power it forward naturally.

Whatever it is that people find interesting, it’s not likely to be on my resume. So I don’t think you should separate your personal persona from your professional brand.

That makes it extremely important to carefully manage what, when and how you engage in social media. You want to put your best foot forward in an honest, authentic and approachable way. Here’s how.

TMI, people. Tweeting about all the Cosmopolitans you had last night? Posting a rant about your idiotic colleagues again? Drunk? Bully? Bigot? Your online comments might represent the ‘real’ you, but they can polarize your prospects and colleagues in a flash. Being passionate about something is fine, as long as you understand that not everyone will share your point of view.

Think: Aspirational.  Online, be the person you want to be. Confident, informed, generous, humble. People can smell a phony a mile away. Everyone has issues and drama, but just as we don’t like lunching with that friend who’s constantly whining, we won’t be very attractive to potential clients if we chronicle our personal frustrations or business breakdowns on a Facebook timeline. And don’t forget to share information that helps other people.

Better Safe Than Sorry.  Companies like mine are already screening candidates on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to gauge their social skills as well as their communication skills. Still partying like a college student? Always searching for shortcuts? Dissing the competition? It all speaks volumes. LinkedIn is a terrific way to find data on professional talent. Facebook is a great way to weed out job candidates who post too many LOLCat photos. Just like a tattoo, the highlights and lowlights of your online life may be around longer than you’d like.

Social media is not a fad. Used correctly, it’s a powerful tool to market your personal brand. Be authentic and professional, and remember: People do business with people they like.

Published on: Jan 23, 2012