Facebook. Twitter. Tumblr. WordPress. Foursquare.  These are all great social networking sites that many of us use on a daily basis. We use them to stay connected with our friends through posting pictures, status changes, and links. As college students, we have all been lectured constantly about the harm that the sites can do to our future. Certain posts and pictures could possibly harm your chances of getting a job or an interview. Over and over again we have been told to make sure our privacy settings are secure, be sure to have appropriate profile pictures, and to even “Google ourselves” and see what the results are. All this advice from professors and professionals warn about the disadvantages of social networking, but what about the advantages?

And then we have some, somewhat less familiar, sites: LinkedIn. Biznik. Ziggs. Upspring. Ryze. These social networking sites are for professional use. Essentially, they provide a way to socialize professionally. Now, let’s not assume that ‘professional’ means boring. These sites are anything but boring. They are all user-friendly and customizable like any other social networking site that you may be using. Their purpose, however, is where the real difference arises.

Professional networking sites allow the user to make connections that can influence their career or their business, or both. You can connect with people that you may have met at a meeting, you can look for job opportunities, raise interest in your product, or just search around to find people who are interested in your same type of business. Such sites come in handy especially for college juniors and seniors who are looking for employment and internships. Creating a profile on one or more of these sites allows employers to find you, but let’s not confuse them with job search sites. Finding opportunities is certainly a potential benefit, but there are many other sites that will serve you better as job search engines.

The purpose of professional social networking sites is to NETWORK – making and maintaining connections with other people. The possibilities are endless. These sites allow you to connect with friends, professors, and past employers; to establish bonds based on common experiences and interests. You can use these networking sites very effectively to build your professional image.

You may be thinking “I’m still in school. I don’t have any experience! I don’t have a professional image!” But wait, you may have more experience than you think. Professional networking sites are there, in part, to HELP you promote yourself and your skills. Think about the things you are good at and focus on those. Think about awards and honors you have achieved in your academic career and post those. You should also post past work experience, even if it is not directly related to your target career, because it will show that you have some initiative, some experience and perhaps even some unique skills.

At first glance, these business-oriented sites may seem a little intimidating, and you probably will think that you have no use for them just yet. But the truth is they are just as easy to use as any other social networking tool, but the benefits of using them can have a much bigger impact on your future!