Where to start
If you don't want everybody to know about it, don't put it online. I know that sounds obvious, but it never ceases to amaze me how many people think they can detail their night-time athletics, narcissistic excesses and alcoholic binges on Facebook and then be surprised, and embarrassed, when it’s read back to them.
And please don't try to hide behind privacy settings. They don't work. In any case we are talking about building an online presence, not building an online privacy wall. If you want to keep something private keep it offline. If you want to build an online presence then open up your privacy settings.
So what social media do you need to be on? Let's first look at the mainstream, obvious channels.
Facebook can be fun. It's great for keeping in touch with old friends, distant relations and former work colleagues. There is a business network side to Facebook now called BranchOut. For that to work properly people will need to be able to see your basic profile details to know who you are and where you have worked. That also means you must make sure your Facebook profile is updated regularly.
You might also want to consider creating a Facebook page about yourself or a particular aspect of your business. But only do so if you are prepared to update it regularly, probably daily, certainly weekly.
Facebook is an important social medium even if you predominantly use it for social activities. Potential work colleagues like to know what you're up to outside work. Most employers now look at potential workers' Facebook activity. It's fine to be chatty and sociable; it's not fine to be drunk and disorderly.
Twitter is a place for 140-character soundbites, a place to seek information, comment and to learn. Some people have more than one Twitter account so they can keep their work and social accounts separate. However, there have been too many errors where people have used the wrong account to make a highly personalised, abusive comment and been caught out.
Generally, Twitter users are keen to hear your work-related tweets and to know a little bit about your personal life and views. A healthy balance works well. So follow other people in your field, important potential clients and useful sources of work-related information, but also follow your favourite celebrities, sportspeople and friends.
Tweet about what you are doing. Let people know what you're doing workwise but don't be boring and only tweet about work. And comment on other people’s tweets, reply to conversations and retweet salient tweets from others.
You never know when one of your tweets will be picked up or you will spot a gem of information in someone else's tweet that could lead to work.
LinkedIn is the professional social network. This really is the place to make sure your profile contains current examples of your work, details of your recent activities and links to relevant websites.
It is worth spending a little time each week or so looking at your connections and seeking out relevant and useful connections to people with whom you have worked in the past. And when you send them a request to connect, don't just leave the basic text in the box; write something personal about when you worked with them.
It is also worth joining relevant groups on LinkedIn or even setting up your own – a reunion group from a former employer, for example, or an event you attended with a number of other LinkedIn members.
YouTube is a place for videos but it is much more than that. If you don't already know, learn how to make a YouTube video. Anyone can put video on YouTube – so why not do it.
Basic video editing software is installed on most computers these days and bog standard cameras that fit on belts or in handbags can take good-quality video. Android and iPhone smartphones have the ability to take YouTube video and upload them to your account instantly.
You can then link your individual YouTube videos to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as embedding the videos in your blog or website.
There is also a comment function on YouTube. Use it. Comment on relevant videos and encourage people to comment on yours. Remember: YouTube is now owned by Google so having a video presence will boost your online ranking.
It’s a start
Get these right, and update your Google profile to include them all, and you will start to build a web presence at zero cost.