Avoid the Pitfalls of Social Networking An online presence is a great way to connect with people, but remember: Everything you write or say online can be found . . . and held against you.

By Lesley Spencer Pyle

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The internet provides an impressive way to connect with people (in essence leveling the playing field for home based business owners). Incorporating social networking into your business's marketing plan will pay off tremendously. Many entrepreneurs participate in socially geared networking forums as well as business networking forums; the caveat is both reflect heavily on you and, by association, your business. Therefore, it's important to realize the potential impact of your online activity on your business.

Social networking sites are a great way to stay in touch with family and friends, but remember the content published here is accessible by others. This includes people with whom you do business. Even though you may have separate sites/accounts that seemingly split your business and personal online personas, anybody could easily access the information on your personal site prior to doing business with you. For example, many HR departments Google candidates' names to obtain additional information about them during the hiring process. So why wouldn't a CEO turn to Google before entering into a business relationship with a person or company?

Keep anything you write on the web professional. Someone wanting to do business with you doesn't want to witness you using vulgar language or discrediting another person or business on an online forum. Once it's out there, it's hard to take it back. Also, any pictures posted should be kept to those you'd feel comfortable sharing with your grandmother. Log-in names should also be kept professional; don't use names or terms that might hurt your image.

Blogs are a popular way to add frequent content to your site. It drives traffic to your site and is a useful tool to inform your visitors of issues and trends. If you use a blog to promote your business, it should mirror your business and its website. Formal businesses, such as financial planners, should keep their content focused on business recommendations, financial advice, etc. If you have a website geared toward children's items, it would be appropriate to have your website more lighthearted.

Sharing links on blogs is another popular way to increase website traffic, but caution should be taken regarding what websites you link to from your blog. If they change their blog content and it ends up being something racy or provocative, you probably don't want to be associated with that type of activity.

There are so many forums out there, but we tend to become comfortable communicating with a particular individual or group of people. Even though you may think you know these people, remember, you really don't know them. Be careful with the information you share. Proceed with caution when asking for feedback regarding a business decision or idea so as not to divulge privileged information. Some people participate in these forums to capture ideas from people who've invested lots of time and energy into their product development.

It's important for PR purposes to utilize social networking sites, but it's just as important to be smart about how you utilize them.

Lesley Spencer Pyle is the founder and president of HomeBasedWorkingMoms.com and HireMyMom.com , and she is the author of The Work-at-Home Workbook: Your Step-by-Step Guide on Selecting and Starting the Perfect Home Business for You. Pyle has been working from home for more than 13 years.

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