My answer: It's hard to go wrong focusing on the most widely-used networking platforms -- Facebook and LinkedIn--then consider a profile on Google. Ask your contacts what they tend to use, too. You don't need to be active daily on every site, but do post a thorough profile so the site can do its work feeding you new contacts and information targeted to what you include in your descriptions of yourself. Have a precisely targeted business audience you want to reach? It's worth searching to see whether a specialized network exists for your market.
Another executive is knee-deep in social networking media and wonders:
It's possible to manage your outgoing and incoming messages with a variety of applications, like Ping.fm. I'm not fond of the apps that send the same status update from you to Facebook, Twitter, and other places--that seems to be a case of being efficient instead of effective. The other way to manage is to schedule your time on social networks--don't spend all day on them--and pare down those on which you're most active. A profile may be enough on some sites. Do engage others on at least one or two sites, or you'll miss their vast potential for improving your networking.
Another person, active on LinkedIn, wondered about its recommendation feature:
My answer: It's a great feature, but like anything else in social networking, it's not a numbers game. I'd rather have three spot-on, excellent recommendations from clients than 100 vague ones.
That's the perfect transition to this question about how to engage contacts:
On LinkedIn, there are several options. You can pose questions in the "Answers" section in your specialty areas, and an email will be sent to your network as well as published on the site for all to see. You can use that feature to ask for resource contacts, tips on travel to a new city, mentoring and more. You also can answer questions from others to show your (or your company's) expertise; choose a few categories and subscribe to an RSS feed so you'll get batches of questions sent to an RSS reader for easier management. Responding well to questions lets you post links to your site and to show what you know. You also can introduce one contact to another, allowing them to link if they choose; privately email a contact to see whether she's going to the same meeting later this month; request advice privately; and much more. I'd ask myself: What would I do with my contacts in person or via email, and see how the social media site makes that easier for me. Can you do someone a favor before you need one, recommend a good restaurant in Chicago, save them time finding a resource? Do it. And don't forget to give your contacts an opening to get to know you better and find common ground.
Check out all my tips on social media for more evidence of how it can help your business communicate. If your organization is looking for more time to explore social media as a communications tool, I offer a half-day orientation to business uses for social media, targeted to your industry or organization; contact me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz for details.