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Metaphors abound in descriptions of social media sites today. They are "exploding," the "next big thing," the "new media revolution." Here's another that will be familiar to anybody who watches football: They're the center of a big pileup.

Everybody — including job seekers, recruiters, marketers — is jumping on them, trying to get a piece of the action in the midst of a chaotic jumble. Sometimes you scoop up a new job lead or connect to a promising candidate. Or you come up empty-handed and a little bruised.

Some recent bits of data to consider:

  • 51% of online U.S. adults utilize social networking sites (Forrester Research survey)
  • 36% of job seekers have used at least one social networking site to help find a job (Yahoo! HotJobs poll)
  • 80% of companies use or are planning to use social networking sites to fill vacant positions (Jobvite survey)

Hiring pros recently shared their insights about social networking sites as part of the Yahoo! HotJobs Recruiter Roundtable. It's no surprise that they differ in their usage of the sites and in their opinions about effectiveness.

"It is important to remember that all of these technologies simply enhance the job search; they will never replace the face-to-face connections that are critical to a successful search," says John Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Why stay on the sidelines? With careful execution, you can position yourself to get more rewards than bruises from piling on.

Challenger's firm offers these tips that job seekers can use on social networking sites:

Advertise your job loss. Telling "followers" that you are looking for a job can be not only therapeutic, but also incredibly useful to finding a new position. Hundreds of recruiters are on Twitter and have no problem following your tweets.

Build your brand. Start a blog discussing industry trends as you see them. Include discussions about your work, and tweet about your blog — as well as other industry developments.

Join groups. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Yahoo! Groups allow users to create and join professional groups. This is a great way to build contacts and communicate with others in your field.

You can find more tips in these articles: