This installment of Career Intelligence evaluates how you can best utilize the rapidly expanding social media communities to aid you in your online presence and branding. These services feed research opportunities for both candidates and potential employers. They offer opportunities to communicate and network with both individuals and companies in ways that have previously been unavailable or challenging to achieve.

There are several areas to consider before you post your life history online for the all the world to see. You have invested time and effort in assessing your skills, competencies and experiences to present in your resume or CV. You need to think through how best to re-purpose that data for publication on the Web, keeping the TMI (Too Much Information) rule in mind. The Internet is forever, and today’s great idea may not be good in the long term.

Very carefully consider who your audience is as well as your purpose and objectives. If you include the information that you’re interested in new opportunities, that goal is visible publically and easily discoverable by your current employer. Some key findings relating to the utilization of social media by corporate HR departments show that they primarily use social media outlets to glean passive candidates. You do not necessarily need to put the fact you’re looking for a new job in writing.

While few companies have internal policies regarding the mining of social media to vet potential candidates, you have to assume they will. The career-related information you publish through your social media outlets should be consistent with that you include in your resume or CV, but the volume of information need not be quite as substantial. Succinctly summarize your skills, competencies and experience, and remember that conflicting facts will be problematic if a possible new employer is mining the Internet to inform their judgement on your suitability as a candidate.

Regularly search for yourself online, considering how various search engines extract and present information from social media sites. Be sure to look at the images that are returned in that search and remove any online image content that could be detrimental. Do include a current photo that is professional in appearance on your social media outlets so it will be the most recent result returned on a search. It goes without saying that you should never place anything online that you would not be comfortable seeing displayed on the front page of any major publication.

Keep in mind that while social media offers you the opportunity to brand and market yourself online, you are also at the same time a saleable product for these companies. A troubling trend is the blurred line between who exactly social media companies are serving. They sell services to candidates seeking exposure. At the same time, they aggressively market and sell access to companies for the purpose of advertising or enhanced access.

Second to the goal of reaching passive candidates for corporations who have a social media presence is the mission to brand and sell. A multimillion-dollar global executive search firm site recently updated their registration process to include applying via LinkedIn. The fine print noted that when the candidate applied that way, he/she was granting access to their entire LinkedIn connection database to that recruitment company.

While social media can help you advance your career by presenting your qualifications to a wide audience, it’s best approached with a well-thought-out strategy. You have control over your personal marketing plan, and social media can offer you the outlet in which to execute it.