Have you set the privacy settings properly on your Facebook page yet? One of our colleagues recently had her son tagged in a photo regarding some fun he had while volunteering in South America. It wasn't

You get the picture?

With Facebook and LinkedIn continuing to reign as top social networking sites, who you know is not always as important as who can know about you. Like e-mail, social networking can lull you into a false sense of privacy and security.

Social networking is fun, but it is no longer just fun. You can actually use it to boost your firm's reputation and improve your career prospects - or tarnish them. Take this tool to the next level with these tips:

Use status wisely. Use the status function on your profile to promote something you are doing at the firm: information you are seeking, an event you are attending, a committee you have joined. It adds to your reputation to show that you are involved, sharing and seeking feedback from your network. Make sure that use of social networking related to your job or firm is supported by the firm's social media policy.

Avoid using the status function to complain, gossip or be cute. I won't even suggest that you set your privacy settings so that you can do these things freely. It just makes you look bad.

Leverage your network. You have all of these people in your network. Are you connecting with them for any reason other than to chat? Think of your network as a huge field for market research. Start asking questions about issues relevant to your career or industry. Pass on the feedback to your direct report or to marketing.

Your questions could be about recruitment, their experiences with service professionals or qualities they look for in professional advisors. It could be about the job market or the cost of jeans. Make each question interesting to spark discussion.

Our firm's designer recently asked people for advice on great new music. People loved sharing their favorites with her and it boosted her visibility in a social media circle.

Manage privacy settings. In addition to setting limits on who can see certain information on your profile page or who can find your profile through a search, you should manage settings every time you add a new connection.

For example, go through the profile and connections list of every new person you add. If there is some information or a person who you don't want connected to you, adjust your privacy settings to limit that connection's access to your profile. On Facebook, you can block someone from finding your profile or "hide" someone without anyone knowing. On LinkedIn, you can prevent people from knowing that you've reviewed their profile and also block some parts of your profile from viewing.

Share information. The biggest benefit of social networking is the ability to share information as it happens. You don't need to wait for the press to write about it - you can publish it yourself to potentially thousands of people. Again, this is where a strong social media policy and strategic public relations plan come in handy. Everyone should be on the same page about the information they can share.

Forwarding articles and industry questions, and joining and creating special interest or niche groups are great ways to create a positive impression in social media. Just steer clear of political or religious debates. Answer questions relevant to your business.

Every time you work with your networks in these ways, you are building visibility and credibility within your firm and industry. Like a fully integrated Web site, your profile can become a source of valuable information.

I'm not saying that the fun is over. You can still share what you did over the weekend. All you have to do is just think before you text or type it: "Would I want my boss or colleagues or my mother to see this? What impression am I creating?"

In the digital realm, a comment is forever. If you have something personal to say, it's still best to say it in person.

Dawn Wagenaar is a principal with Ingenuity Marketing Group (www.ingenuitymarketing.com), which supports strategic marketing for CPA firms nationwide and other professionals. Reach her at (651) 690-3358 or dawn@ingenuitymarketing.com.

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