Every day in business, you're either looking for a solution to a problem or you want to be the solution to somebody else's problem. In an effort to achieve those two goals, we network.

Online social networking has become the de rigueur method used today, and sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn offer the promise of extending your reach and making useful business contacts.

But the efficacy of online social networking for business has been debatable. When you begin, you often give far more to the community than you receive, and it's hard to separate business networking from networking to build personal connections.

While some argue that personal networking adds value because it helps you increase your contacts, others shy away altogether for fear of getting sucked into unproductive activities such as endless instant-messaging and following Twitter feeds.

And there's no simple formula that indicates how much time we need to spend on social-networking sites in order to see results with an increasing number of useful contacts and improved business growth. Nevertheless, as successful networkers argue, it's good, even important, to get started so that the contacts are there when you need them.

Build your presence

Three of the most popular social-networking applications, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, have risen to become standard tools that are used across all industries and interests.

While setting up a complete profile on these applications should be one of your initial default actions, it's more important to talk to connected people in your industry and ask them what services they're using. Your industry may have specific user groups in niche sites that connect businesses with consumers.

A complete profile is welcoming, so be sure to take the time to fill out all the public information, from past job history to current employment, that you want people to know. An incomplete profile screams, 'Since I didn't have time to finish this profile, I don't have time to participate in this social network or to talk to you'.

Being easy to reach means providing direct contact information, such as your IM addresses, Skype username, email address, Twitter name and phone number (but not in publicly searchable places, naturally).

You should make yourself easy to find by including appropriate keywords in all your profiles. For example, if you work in solar power, include words such as 'energy', 'sustainable' and 'green'. Your discoverability will be tied closely to your blog, if you have one, as well as to your LinkedIn profile, which will rank very high in Google searches, especially if you customise the public URL with your real name.

One important note: don't discount the networking value of your email signature. Beyond your position and email address, include in your signature both your best contact information and links to your blog and LinkedIn profile. People you contact will want to investigate who you are and, if they like what they see, they'll want to follow up.

NEXT PAGE: The importance of cleaning up your current online profile

  1. The importance of Facebook when it comes to professional networking
  2. Cleaning up your current online profile
  3. Invites and events
  4. Building your brand online
  5. Don't be afraid to reach out online