You’re educated, you’re intelligent, and you’re driven to make your career dreams come true with the high-quality work you turn in. Unfortunately, in today’s digital age, where every individual becomes their own personal brand, smarts and effort aren’t always enough — you need meaningful connections and an esteemed reputation to put you ahead of the pack. Recruiting software provider Jobvite reports nearly 40 percent of all hires are generated through employee referral programs, nearly double the average of strategic human resource management efforts. Employee referrals are also hired 55 percent more quickly than those who are hired through a career site.

These numbers are especially meaningful to freelancers, who can save time bidding for work over competitors by gaining new clients through referrals. A digital footprint is almost inescapable today; in fact, a study by the Internet security company AVG found that 92 percent of American toddlers already have an online presence. Using social media to shape your digital identity and garner more freelance writing jobs leads gives you an edge in the marketplace. As Jobvite’s 2015 Recruiter Nation Survey found, 96 percent of recruiters use social media in their efforts to find quality candidates. Here are five ways to leverage social channels to improve your personal brand.

1. Focus on the right channels

Your time is precious, so when you’re using social media to improve your personal brand, it’s vital to be on the networks where possible referrals and recruiters are. The 2015 Recruiter Nation Survey found 87 percent of recruiters use LinkedIn, so having a presence there is a good idea for any professional. The site reports its fastest-growing demographic is students and recent college graduates, who comprise 40 million members. Not having a LinkedIn profile increases your potential to lose out on an assignment to someone fresh out of college.

Consider the worth of other social networks in elevating your personal brand:

  • Twitter allows you to connect with prominent professionals by tweeting directly to them.
  • Google+ and YouTube presences offer positive search results, which help individuals in need of improved online sentiment.
  • Instagram profiles with significant followings can help users make extra income and notable connections. According to Harper’s Bazaar, one 22-year-old fashion blogger earns up to $15,000 a post and works with some of the top fashion brands in the world.

Map out your personal branding goals with social media, including what you want to achieve on each channel. Marketing yourself with intent improves consistency for your personal brand and aligns your messaging.

2. Optimize your profiles

Cryptic and mysterious bios that leave potential followers scratching their heads about what you’re about won’t just increase the likelihood they’ll move on to another account — they could be costing you search results. Especially on Google-owned networks like Google+ and YouTube, optimizing headlines, bios and content with keywords that relate to your personal brand helps you get better results in search. They also give recruiters and potential referrals a clear understanding of the value you offer and what your goals are.

Set up channels with your real name, in both URLs (if possible) and in descriptions. Explain the type of work you do and how you can help the types of brands you want to work with — this makes it easier for those who visit your social media channels to understand the value you bring. If space allows, note any significant achievements to boost your social media credibility.

3. Build meaningful relationships

Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” reports that at least a third of the American population is introverted. The internet is an introvert’s dream answer to networking. No alcohol-fueled meetups in loud bars, and no need to get up at 6 a.m. to hear a speaker at a continental breakfast before exchanging business cards. Even if you love free appetizers and small talk, your best business partners might be skipping out on in-person networking events themselves.

To build relationships with meaningful contacts through social media, use social media aggregators such as Klout or Twellow to find influencers based on your industry and interests. You can then reach out to them individually, tell them why you admire them, and start sharing their content to show your support. By forging a genuine online connection, you’ll be on their minds the next time they have an opportunity you’d be a good fit for. They’ll view you as someone who uses social media with positive intentions, and you’ll give people you respect more insight into how you can help them.

4. Share and interact thoughtfully

While you shouldn’t use social media to blatantly self-promote on a constant basis (it’s called social media, after all), it’s acceptable to share content you produce with relevant audiences who might be helped by or interested in your content. Have you written an article that relates to your industry? Your LinkedIn connections might want to learn more. Are you proud of the first YouTube video you created, and want honest feedback on it? Your Facebook followers would probably be happy to help provide it. By showing off work you’re pleased with — and by making sure to mix in the content with plenty of follower interactions and the sharing of others’ content, as well — you give followers a glimpse of what you’re capable of producing. Next time there’s a project that matches your skill set, you’ll have an advantage over someone who kept their work to themselves.

The relationships you foster are the determining factor of how effective your self-promotion will be, though. Instead of filling your Twitter feed with tweets about what you’re up to, retweet other followers so they’re inclined to reciprocate. Respond to comments on your channels to let people know you are listening and appreciate their feedback. It may seem counterintuitive, but promoting people you look up to — even potential competition — provides dividends in the probability they’ll promote you back to their own follower base.

5. Post with recruiters in mind

As the Twitter rants of countless celebrities have shown, deleting angry tweets doesn’t make them disappear — screenshots allow them to live online forever, and once people see negativity or hate-filled speech, irreparable damage is done. Even posts to private networks can get leaked, so before you post anything, ask yourself, “Does this represent my personal brand the way I want it to?” That includes profile pictures, too. Shots of you holding alcohol, partying, flipping off the camera, or showing yourself provocatively can instantly turn off social media users.

Maybe you want to use Facebook for the sole purpose of sharing awesome cat videos. That’s OK, especially if your friends love them and appreciate that you’re sharing so many. But in cases where you want channels to solely have fun on and not focus on personal branding, consider setting up alternate “professional” social media profiles, as well. Make your personal channels private to better control who is seeing the content there. Those are the places where using an alias that relates in no way to your personal brand is appropriate.

Adults spend nearly two hours a day on social networks, according to the GlobalWebIndex Social Q1 2016 report. Increasing the amount of time you spend cultivating a positive personal brand during that time can lead to more opportunities that free you up to pursue more passions — even to watch more cat videos.

Have you used social media to boost your personal brand? Share your own tips on social media using #ClearVoice.