We’ve all felt it at one point or another.  We’re scrolling through our Facebook news feed, wondering why we’re not doing something else a bit more productive, but unable to look away.  And then it sets in.  How many posts about sheep and virtual farming do I need to let run past my eyes before I need to throw up my arms and close the browser.  Or better yet, step away from the computer.

Social Networking is undeniably a valuable communication and networking tool, but sometimes Facebook makes it hard to see how.  The trick answer is that Facebook is far from the be all and end all of Social Networking, and if that’s where your experience begins and ends, you may be missing out on some extremely valuable tools for professional outreach and development.

Exhibit A: LinkedIn.  Billed as the “professional” social network, this site has established itself as a true networking powerhouse.  The crudest way to describe it is imagining it as your online resume.  Your profile should mimic a lot of what your “analog” resume looks like.  But as with most web based platforms, it offers many more robust features.  From publicly posted recommendations from colleagues, supervisors, and clients, to status updates that allow you to discuss projects you’re working on and articles you find professionally stimulating.

LinkedIn provides many other robust tools for managing your professional network.  They have dynamic group pages where you can connect with others in similar fields, people with common interests or hobbies, or classmates and fellow alumni.  (You’d better believe we have an SPS Group waiting for you!)  LinkedIn has proven itself as the ideal way to stay in touch with old colleagues, and find potential new leads as you move along in your professional development.

But don’t just listen to me.  This pitch video hits on many of the key features of LinkedIn and why it is a truly indispensable tool for all professionals.

That doesn’t mean LinkedIn is the end all for all your professional networking.  Just because Facebook is dominated by Farmville and other games doesn’t mean it isn’t a remarkably useful tool.  Just because Twitter uses a bunch of strange words doesn’t mean it can’t help to solidify your personal brand and get you a job.  We will touch on all of this and more as the column progresses.

But as we move forward, I urge all of you to explore LinkedIn, set up a profile, and join the SPS Group.  I am happy to work with all of you on this, and if anyone has questions, please post them in the comments.  Chances are you’re not alone in wondering about all the oddities that go hand in hand with joining a new social network.  As students in a school of PROFESSIONAL studies, you are at a severe disadvantage these days if you don’t take advantage of all the tools available to you.  And LinkedIn is a very powerful tool.

Shawn Abraham is SPS’ Virtual Campus Manager, which means he gets to have a lot of fun building an online community for the school.  He also has a lot of fun reading books about zombies.  These two things rarely intersect.