In today’s challenging economy we all know about using social media to find jobs. Develop a profile, use key words, update regularly, and leverage the network, are the key steps. But, LinkedIn, Tribe, Plaxo and other social media can be huge tools for business development and managing sales cycles.

Whether you use LinkedIn, Plaxo, MySpace, Tribe or another social networking site, they all provide the ability to post information, find people and find companies. These can be extremely helpful if you are looking to penetrate a particular company, get additional contacts or learn more about the company. They can also be useful if you are trying to learn about key individuals in a company or learn about the issues companies may face. It is a great way to learn about your competition, too.

If you are in Business Development and need to penetrate a new company, use the search function on various sites. In LinkedIn, for example, if you know the name of the company you want to penetrate, you can go online, search for the company name and get a list of contacts sorted by those closest to you on your network. You can then ask someone in your network for an introduction or reference.

Say you are running a sales cycle, how might you use social media? Learn more about the key decision makers in the process. Check out their profiles and see what companies they used to work for. Then check your network to see if you know someone who knows them. You might learn more about that individual’s background or decision making. You may discover they have a mutual interest in golf, sailing or collecting garden gnomes. Anything to expand the relationship.

You can also learn about who they might favor.

Do they have a large number of your competitor’s sales people on their Plaxo network? Do they golf with the VP of Sales for a consultant you work with? (MySpace and Facebook are great sources for this as everyone wants to brag about their latest score).

Leverage the discussion groups or blogs. Often managers and decision makers will look for information about a particular problem they might be having. Or they might use it to complain about a bad install. People often use these venues to research problems they are trying to solve. For example a recent discussion on a blog asked people about what sources they use for leads and lists. If you are a lead or list vendor, BINGO!

Even Twitter is a great sales tool if used in a targeted way. Software companies who frequently update or upgrade software can use it to let key customers know of upgrades. Retail wine and beverage companies have used it to share specials. By constructing your follower groups appropriately, you can keep people updated on their sales cycles.

There are many other creative ways to use social media to target specific demographics, interest groups, or people who are interested in social issues. Don’t limit your thinking. If you stopped leveraging LinkedIn, Plaxo, Tribe, Friendster or other sites because you found a job, think again. Take advantage of everything they have to offer.