Editor’s note: This is the second “Executive Insight” column, a weekly feature for Local Tech Wire as part of its partnership with the and MMI Public Relations.

By Heather Hollick, chief inspiration officer for Rizers

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Despite the buzz surrounding the expanding world of social media, success in businesses and careers is still driven by connections and strong relationships. These connections can be expanded via social media tools such as LinkedIn and Twitter, two of the most powerful enhancements to professional networking since the Rolodex.

Unfortunately, too many people see LinkedIn as a static online resume and Twitter as a chatterbox. The question is, do these tools have any value in the world of people who are busy making connections and being successful? Can LinkedIn and Twitter actually enable and enhance networking?

As with so many of the important questions in life, the answer is not black and white. Social media’s usefulness depends on how you think of your network, how you engage in the process of networking; essentially how you use it.

Let’s begin with some common terms. What is your network? Is it a list of contacts? The collection of names in an address book? Your connections on LinkedIn? The problem is that all of these definitions may be true.

You must start by visualizing your network not as the list of friends or contacts but as the links between you and those people. To be precise, your network is defined as the freshness and strength of all links between you and everyone you know. It is a constantly changing, living organism formed by those active links.

What is networking? Is it meeting people for coffee or lunch or exchanging business cards at a noisy "networking event?" If a network is a living collection of active links, then it follows that networking is the simple but profound activity of creating, reviving and strengthening links. Any activity, face-to-face or virtual, that creates, revives or strengthens a link is considered networking.

The classic approach to reviving a link includes sitting down over a meal or cup of coffee, chatting via telephone, or exchanging e-mail. Of course any activity that sends a message to your contacts with information about what you are doing, what you need, or what is important to you, is reviving that link.

How does one strengthen network links? The possibilities are as varied as the personalities of your contacts. The best advice is to approach networking with a desire to help the people in your network be successful. The constant exchange of introductions, favors and information cultivate strong contacts.

Let us return to our original question: “How should we use LinkedIn and Twitter to network?” Perhaps we should rephrase the question: “How can we use LinkedIn and Twitter to revive and strengthen contacts?” Both shine in these capacities.

Follow those in your network on Twitter and encourage them to follow you. Every time you send a tweet, you are reviving a network connection. People know what you do, what Web sites you read and what you think. Status updates on LinkedIn provide the same effect. The next time you see someone in person the conversation will flow at a level that that will amaze you.

LinkedIn can offer even more to the savvy networker. It serves as the database of record for your career, and is the perfect tool to reflect active links in your real-life network. A complete and current profile provides depth and background to who you are, where you have been and where you aspire to go. Adding a photo provides an emotional connection. LinkedIn profiles can provide good topics of conversation at first-time meetings.

Use LinkedIn profile features to provide important information about yourself to your network connections. Every time you update your profile, your network is notified. Update your reading list using the Amazon application or post your blog with the WordPress application. People in your network will know what is happening in your career, what you are thinking and what you are saying.

Finally, staying connected and informed is bi-directional. Engage. Allot 15 minutes a day to actively discover what is happening in the lives of the people in your network. Visit your LinkedIn and Twitter home pages regularly. Subscribe to your LinkedIn network updates via RSS feed and stay current. Use other people’s updates as a cue to reach out via e-mail or telephone for a quick catch-up.

LinkedIn and Twitter are neither substitutes for building relationships, nor are they the next wave in networking. Instead, LinkedIn and Twitter are powerful tools to supplement and amplify the process of keeping network links fresh while revealing opportunities to make them stronger.

About the author: Heather Hollick is the founder and chief inspiration officer for , a new company offering a suite of coaching and consulting services helping individuals and teams achieve their potential. She is a seasoned leader, teacher and coach with a wide range of leadership experiences in IT, human resources and nonprofit organizations.

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NEXT TTEC event:

The September 2009 TTEC Briefing is a breakfast meeting focusing on the challenges and opportunities associated with social networking. Christopher Perrien, an Internet Strategist from the IMB Internet Emerging Technologies Group, will share his insights on the current trends in both the current technologies as well as utilization of related services. Christopher brings keen insight and a unique approach to realizing value through the various social networking tools and practices. The event is set for Sept. 15 at the Brier Creek Country Club. Check the web site for details.