It seems like every day there's another "hot" new social networking site clamoring for our attention. Don't get caught up in the hype. Social-media tools are invaluable for personal branding because they provide a cheap, effective way to reach a mass audience. But of the hundreds of social-media tools that exist today, only a handful will enable you to target large numbers of highly engaged users -- people who will be deeply interested in your area of expertise. Here are the 10 that will give you the most mileage.
1: Google Reader
To create a credible brand, you must become a bona fide expert in your field. Sign up for a Google Reader account so that every time you subscribe to a blog or news site, you can quickly scan the latest articles in your reader rather than wasting time going from site to site. Added bonus: you can access Google Reader on your mobile phone.
After receiving news feeds from Google Reader, you'll want to save some articles. Delicious, a social bookmarking site, will enable you to tag the articles, organize them by keyword, and then share them with your network.
Yes, there are way too many blogs out there, but blogs still rank high in search engines. A well-named and nicely designed blog that focuses on a niche and is frequently updated will help you distinguish yourself in a crowded industry. WordPress, the platform of choice for most bloggers, offers thousands of free templates.
4: Facebook Fan Pages
You may already be one of the 400 million people on Facebook, but are you using your account to communicate your professional brand? Clean up your profile or make it private. Then start a Facebook fan page -- a type of account geared specifically to companies, products, and public personas. It will allow you to collect analytics, have exchanges with your "fans," and add all kinds of applications.
More than any other tool, this microblogging site can enable a brand to spread virally -- via 140-character messages. With 75 million users and growing, Twitter enables you to interact with industry leaders as well as consumers. If you're already sending out status updates on Facebook or LinkedIn and adding Twitter sounds like too much work, you can use Ping.fm, to update all your social networks in one step. Be careful, though - you might not want the same message going to all of your different audiences.
6: LinkedIn Groups
More than 178 million U.S. Internet users watch online video each month, and nearly 40 percent of them are doing so on YouTube, the most popular video-sharing site and one of the top five search engines in the world. Post a video resume about your work; people who watch it will feel connected to you before they even meet you.
Images can be a powerful way to convey your brand. If you go to a lot of industry events, travel for your work, or make a physical product, you've got people, places, and things to show. Take pictures of your brand-building activities and upload them to Flickr. Then post your photos to your Web site or blog using a Flickr badge, which creates a link to the pool of images you want to share.
Aside from tapping into existing networks like Facebook or LinkedIn, you can create your own branded social networking site. Ning enables you to create your own community just the way you want it; you can decide what the site looks like and what functionality it will have.
10: Wiki Workspace
Formerly known as PBwiki, PBworks enables you to create a wiki workspace, where you can write, edit, and collaborate with colleagues and consumers on all kinds of projects. Wondering what collaboration has to do with your personal brand? Well, who knows your brand better than anyone? The people you've worked with. So why not invite new people to collaborate with you and get to know your brand? For example, I used a wiki to collaborate on a definition of personal branding with experts in my field, some of whom I had never been in contact with before. As a result, I created a deeper connection with them by working on a project together.