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3 Social Media Skills That Could Save Your Career

This post was originally published by HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes on the LinkedIn Influencer blog. Follow Ryan on LinkedIn:

Remember the Taco Bell employee who posted a photo of himself licking a stack of taco shells at work on Facebook? What about the Buckingham palace guard who, back in 2011, called Kate Middleton a “posh bitch on his Facebook account? And the Colorado high school math teacher who frequently shared racy photos of herself on Twitter, along with tweets about smoking pot? All were fired from their jobs soon after their social media indiscretions were discovered by their employers.

Over the last few years we’ve seen many shocking (and embarrassing) examples of people seriously damaging their careers with inappropriate online behavior. But there’s also a flip side that rarely gets media coverage. Using social media the right way can help you get hired and keep your job.

Unfortunately, lots of people are still in the dark when it comes to social media know-how in the workplace. Here are three professional social media skills that I think are absolutely critical. Adopting these may not only help you avoid self-inflicted job sabotage, it could also help accelerate your career:

Knowing When To Hit the Bleep Button

Last September, former Business Insider CTO Pax Dickinson was fired for making some particularly offensive comments about women and minorities on his personal Twitter account. Obviously, someone who harbors thoughts like these has some serious issues, but from a strictly professional standpoint the situation hints at a larger problem. Many people still seem to forget that personal profiles can have professional repercussions. No matter what your privacy settings are, the bottom line is that Twitter, Facebook and other networks are never totally private, and anything you post can find a way back to bosses. As the Dickinson case shows, few employers are eager to associate themselves with off-color or offensive content, even when it may be intended as a joke.

Using Social Media to Network Professionally

Many have dutifully filled their LinkedIn profiles with current and former positions, internships, extracurriculars and academic accomplishments. But LinkedIn’s true job-finding power is often overlooked: Hiring managers and CEOs who would normally be out of reach are often just a connection or two away. In fact, you don’t need to be connected at all. A paid feature called InMail, for instance, enables users to send emails directly to any one of LinkedIn’s 277 million members.

LinkedIn Groups are also a great way to start conversations with like-minded people who can become a valuable part of your professional network. Look for groups that focus on job searching and careers to expand your own knowledge and contact base. Also, find desired employers’ Twitter profiles or company blogs and follow them or like their Facebook and LinkedIn company pages (Better still, find out who the specific hiring manager or person interviewing job candidates is and follow his or her social profiles.) This way, you’ll have a chance to connect more intimately with them and you can show off your knowledge and passion when the opportunity rises.

Applying Social Media to Actually Save Time

According to a 2013 Salary.com survey, the most frequently visited personal website at work is—you guessed it—Facebook. As networks proliferate— and employees not only check Facebook but post on Twitter, browse Instagram and more—social media has the potential to be a devastating time suck. Yet it can also be a time saver in the office. A recent McKinsey report notes that social media has the potential to unlock up to $1.3 trillion in economic value, largely owing to improvements in intra-office collaboration. Internal social networks like Yammer enable employees to form virtual work groups and communicate on message boards. Instead of endless back-and-forths on email, coworkers can post and reply in continually updated streams. In an era when efficiency and communication are prized, being up-to-date on the ways social media can be used internally is a big job asset.

Of course, it’s not reasonable to expect that everyone should just intuitively “get” social media. There’s still a lot to learn and it’s a communication channel that is getting increasingly complex. Even Millennials, who are supposed to be the social media savviest of us all make serious mistakes. A recent study found that 1 in 10 job seekers between the ages of 16 and 34 have been rejected for a job because of something posted on their online profiles.

“Because somebody grows up being a social media native, it doesn’t make them an expert in using social media at work,” says William Ward, professor of social media at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. “That’s like saying, ‘I grew up with a fax machine, so that makes me an expert in business.’”

To get up to speed on the latest digital advances, growing numbers of people are turning to online courseware. “There are lots of online training programs out there,” Ward explains, “though some are better than others.” He cautions learners to stick to programs offering industry-recognized certification. I’m proud to say that the most widely used offering comes from my own company: HootSuite University has seen 50,000 people enroll since it was started in 2011 and is also used in 400 higher education programs.

For job seekers competing in a tight market, social media skills—unheard of just a decade ago—can mean the difference in finding and keeping a job. “Students using digital and social media professionally in an integrated and strategic way … have an advantage,” Ward says. “[They’re] getting better jobs and better internships …”

For more social media insight and to learn more about my company, follow HootSuite on LinkedIn.