Should You Use Facebook for Professional Networking?

••• Copyright Getty Images / William Andrews

There has been a significant increase in Facebook users over 25, with ComScore reporting an 181% increase in users in the 25-34 year old demographic and a 98% increase from those 35 years and older. That's a big increase in the number of users with careers rather than college on their agenda.

Some of these users are utilizing Facebook for professional and business networking, in addition to the social networking that Facebook is famous for.

Facebook Grows Up

One of those people is Tiffany Monhollan, who writes The Little Red Suit blog on Generation Y and new media. Tiffany says, "I have connections with many I know in the professional world on Facebook. With others, I do not. As one who grew up with Facebook from college into my professional career, I've seen drastic changes in its use over time. I've also changed and adapted based on what uses I have."

Others have told me that Facebook is for kids and should only be used for social networking. Part of the difference in usage, I think, is that the younger generation has less boundaries between work and life, and, as Tiffany mentioned, have grown up with Facebook. They are so used to using Facebook that taking the next step to professional networking is a simple process. Whereas, for someone who has been in the job market for years, LinkedIn is simpler to use, because it's strictly professional and doesn't have all the bells and whistles that Facebook does.

Facebook Gifts and Widgets

Part of the difference is that when I look at my LinkedIn profile there isn't anything other than professional information. With Facebook there's just so much other stuff - gifts you can send, friends you can poke, birthdays, parties and other events, and widgets and tools for countless other applications.

However, that's exactly what Facebook was designed to do and therein lies the dilemma for those who want to keep their personal life separate from their work life.

The Line Between Social and Professional Networking

That line between social and professional gets blurry and I'm not sure how, and when, you should draw it, especially when you're job searching. If you're careful, and use your connections wisely (on LinkedIn, Facebook, and other networking sites), however, you can use them for whatever you want - helping build your career or figuring out what party you want to go to or movie to watch.

The key is to be careful. Tiffany suggests, "College students and young professionals who are using Facebook for professional networking need to be aware of the amount and type of information they are sharing. That said, many young professionals I know prefer using it for professional networking namely because it showcases you as a whole person. This is definitely an evolving issue, and since the opening of the Facebook world to outside developers, it will continue to be interesting to monitor."

Kay Stout, Executive Advisor at Oklahoma Professional Job Search and the author of the Another Point of View, blog also has good advice, "From my perspective as an executive adviser/career coach, Facebook/MySpace are electronic diaries that you’re willing to have the whole word look at, any time, any where.

And, remember people can download your image, comments and save them for later distribution."

Tips For Using Facebook for Professional Networking

If you do decide to use the social networking sites for professional networking, and, a word of warning, some experts I spoke to suggested that Facebook and business don't mix well, here are some suggestions on how best to utilize it:

  • First, make a decision whether to keep Facebook social or expand your use.
  • If you decide to use Facebook for professional networking, take a close look at your Profile and decide what you want business contacts or prospective employers to see - and what you don't.
  • Create a simple profile (or clean up with your existing one) with minimal graphics and widgets.
  • Limit the photos you post.
  • Post content relevant to your job search or career.
  • Use Facebook email to build relationships with your Friends.
  • Choose your Friends wisely. Remember your Friends can see information about your other Friends in your Profile.

Finally, advice from Kay Stout for all of us who use Facebook, "To be taken professionally, be very, very careful what you share with the world on Facebook/My Space (reminds me of 'The Emperor Has No Clothes' story). People seem to forget that everyone can see what you’re really not wearing."

Suggested Reading: Facebook Privacy Tips