The Art of Self-Marketing Online

To find a job, enhance your social network and expand your Web presence.

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If you're unemployed, you need to become a salesperson. That doesn't mean that you have to try to get a job as one, but in a business world that's increasingly dominated by social media, mastering the ability to sell yourself in cyberspace has become one of the most important skills a worker—especially an unemployed one—can possess. And in this economy, where some people have gone months or even a year or two without work and they're all competing with you for the same jobs, what do you have to lose?

For younger folks who grew up in the age of Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, and—more recently—LinkedIn and Twitter, becoming a social media maven is easier. But for the older crowd, learning self-marketing on the Internet can be a huge help in distinguishing your application from a fellow job seeker. It can make a difference between being just another applicant and being the next interviewee.

It's not just about being on the Internet, it's about making the Net work for you. Career and human resources experts say the same thing: Create your personal brand and make it your own. Establish a niche. Stay active. And perhaps most importantly, don't just send out E-mails and other digital messages asking for jobs. If you follow some easy steps to expand your Web presence and enhance your social network, anything can happen.

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Starting is half the battle. Really, it's not as hard as it looks. The first step, says career expert Brad Karsh, is getting past that fear of social media that many older users have. "The simplest advice [for job seekers] is to just start doing it," says Karsh, who is the founder and president of JobBound, a career consulting company, and the author of two job-search books. Getting past the stigma that the Internet is a lawless digital Wild West is important.

Resources like LinkedIn, a professional networking site that claims more than 60 million users in some 200 countries and territories, give you a chance to put yourself out there without revealing too much personal information. Your profile space allows you to list your work experience, education background, and personal websites. In other words, it's an online résumé. And "connecting" with old colleagues, friends, and bosses can keep you fresh in their minds.

If you join Twitter, a less professionally oriented site, you can follow people—experts, celebrities, etc.—you never would have had access to in the past. You can pick and choose who you "follow" and read their comments instantly as they post online. You can also post a running stream of your thoughts. It's a quick—and addictive—way to interact with people and organizations from all walks of life, including companies, experts, and peers in your field.

Develop your brand. Do everything in your power to set yourself apart. Don't just use social media tools to ask people for jobs; be patient and understand that organically developing online relationships takes time. Post interesting links to news relating to your field. E-mail contacts and update them on the things you're doing, or simply ask them what they think about recent happenings in their industry. In a nutshell, start a dialogue.

"Establish your footprint," says Jessica Lee, a senior employment manager for APCO Worldwide, a public relations firm in Washington, and a well-known blogger and Twitter user among human resources professionals. "Add value to the content you are putting out there. It's about building credibility and expertise using those networks by showing that you're thoughtful about your industry."

On LinkedIn, for example, there's a section called Answers. There, LinkedIn users post business or industry-related questions to an open forum. Users respond with answers and suggestions, and this often leads to an added contact, LinkedIn spokesperson Krista Canfield says. "It's very much like a business lunch. You'd never go into a business lunch screaming, 'Is anyone hiring for a marketing person right now?' Treat it like it's an in-person interaction." If people think that you gave the best answer to a question, they can give you expertise ratings that show up in your profile. And it could lead to further interaction with those LinkedIn users down the line.