You can get much more from social networks than just a chance to show your mettle. SoNets are a great source of education. Other users can help you solve problems, point you to tutorials and other resources, turn you on to industry news and events, even hook you up with contacts.
“Okay, I get it, give a little, get a little, put my best face forward. But where?” There is no right answer. If I was talking just to 3D artists, I'd suggest niche sites like CGTalk.com. You'll have to spend a little time Googling to find the best niche networks to get involved with. For SoNets that aren't so niche, a good place to start is our old friend Facebook. FB has a great many groups, some as random as My Name Is Durwin (of which I am a member of course), or as obvious as Design & Typography. Professional groups aren't just on Facebook though,MySpace and others have some worth joining. There are a bunch of great sites dedicated to professionals only, chief among them, LinkedIn. If you don't have an account here, you're, quite frankly, nuts. Talent Zoo is a great site for job searching. Not only does it offer great articles (feel free to agree below) and job boards, but also gives you a chance to interact with colleagues and potential employers.
If you have a unique interest, alot to say, or ADD (all of which I'm very proud of), consider subscribing to or starting a blog. There is no end to the number of general and niche industry blogs, from technology to job hunting, advertising to life hacking. Got something on your mind? For free you can create as many blogs as you like with sites like Wordpress, Blogspot, to name a few. It's as easy as using Word. Much more than an online diary, it's a great way to discuss your ideas and get feedback from readers. If you want to develop a larger social network, consider using Ning to launch a blog that can turn into a fill-fledges, multi-member social network. D.C. Insider Ariana Huffington turned her blog into a multi-author, political blog network worth millions.
Of course, everyone is talking about Twitter now. It has actually become my #2 news source, after CNN and tied with the Huffington Post. I've made tremendous contacts and learned an enormous amount of helpful and professional facts, as well as a tremendous amount of inane and personal facts! "Isn't that where geeks go to talk about their latest podcast and what happened on Heroes?" Of course it is. But it's much more. There is nowhere that the conversation is more raw and to the point than Twitter. In 140 characters, you'll get everything from Red Sox plays to the latest on the McCain and Obama campaigns, behind-the-scenes images and commentary from industry events. You'll also get help with technical problems, employee referrals, heads-up on new products, new sites and new jobs. There is a fun movie on Twitter.com that explains the service. Your best bet would be to begin by following some people whose user name you know (like mine) and see who they're talking to. Pick the ones having interesting conversations and follow them, then see who they are following. It's as exponential as it is experiential. Twitter isn't just for online chat. I've met dozens of the people I converse with everyday at industry events. As a matter of fact, that's how I found out about the event in the first place. Even out-of-town Tweeps come into town; they get treated to a Boston Tweet-up!
Twitter is not a place to join and start begging for jobs, or beating people over the head with your CV. LinkedIn is not the place to start Friending everyone at a company you've never worked at in hopes of getting an inside referral. In any social network, just like when visiting a foreign country, get to know the local customs. See how people interact, what they are interested in. You may find it's not the right place for you. But, don't worry, there are so many social networks, you'll very easily find one that suits you whether you are job hunting, trying to change careers, or looking to hire.