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8 Business online networking mistakes to avoid

Get your social media activity right and it could help you land a job.

Online networking is a great way to make business contacts and widen your professional network. Get your social media activity right and it could help you land a job. Get it wrong and it could damage your professional reputation. Here are eight mistakes to avoid.

1. Having a dodgy photo (or none at all)

Employers and recruiters like to put a face to a name, and people are less likely to accept an online invitation if they can't see who it's coming from. Use the same image across all of your networking sites to help create a strong personal brand.

The only thing worse than no photo? A snap of you sipping cocktails, where you've cut other people out of the shot, and selfies taken with your pet, child or spouse. A little personality is allowed, especially in creative industries, but as a rule you should use a well-lit professional headshot that clearly shows your face. Don't be tempted to use a photo from 10 or 20 years ago. You don't want the interviewer to meet you and wonder what else you've been deceptive about.

2. Connecting with anyone and everyone

When it comes to online connections, think quality not quantity and only accept requests from people in your industry or profession. Connecting with people who aren't relevant weakens the quality of your network. You're also less likely to be "spammed" with irrelevant information from strangers that way.

3. Not asking for recommendations

If you've had a positive experience with a manager or client, ask them for a recommendation. Upload it as a testimonial on your website or social networking page. Send the person a personalised message, rather than using the template provided on the networking site, and don't be afraid to ask them to comment on a particular skill you would like to promote. Recruiters use professional networking sites to headhunt talent, and a good recommendation from the right person could land you a job. Worse than no recommendations? Reviews from your peers, mother or friends. Tit-for-tat overblown recommendations will lessen your credibility.

4. Not updating your status

Why go to the trouble of building an audience, if you aren't going to use it? Updating your status regularly (at least once a week) shows that you're active and engaged. Tell others about your professional achievements and progress, such as clients or awards you've won, or link out to a feature you've written. If you only update your status and details when you're job hunting, it's a clear sign to your current manager that you're looking to leave.

5. Exaggerating the truth

You never know who will be looking at your profile. That creative "embellishment" (when you gave yourself a retrospective promotion or took credit for someone else's work) will be seen by previous managers and colleagues, as well as potential employers. People talk, and industries can be more insular than you think.

Recruiters may check your professional networking page against your CV, and can cross check facts online. Any inconsistencies – dates of employment, job titles or responsibilities – are an immediate red flag. That fib on your online profile has the potential to trip you up at interview and worse still, damage your professional reputation for years to come. Is it worth it?

6. Not using keywords

Recruiters and hiring managers use professional networking sites as a search engine, typing in keywords to find potential talent. Make sure you name appears top of the list by using targeted keywords in your headline, summary and job descriptions. Avoid nonsense descriptions – recruiters aren't likely to search on "story-telling guru" but might want a "copywriter" and avoid overused words like "creative" and "dynamic". You should demonstrate, rather than tell, why you have those qualities in your profile.

7. Asking for favours too soon

Pitching your services to someone as soon as they connect with you online is a mistake. Instead, build trust and rapport by sharing links to information they might find interesting or answering a question they've posted online. Being an active member of the site, by joining debates and sharing useful information about your industry, takes time but vastly increases your credibility.

8. Not adjusting your privacy settings

If you're job hunting, consider changing your privacy settings on professional networking sites. That way, your recent activity won't show on your feed and your boss won't be able to see when you connect with a recruiter or follow a new company. If you're going to use a social networking site such as Facebook to connect with employers make sure you clean up your page first. If you're unsure, set personal pages to private and connect with employers via professional networking sites instead.

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