If you’re like many people these days, you spend a growing amount of time on one or more of the Internet’s social media sites - YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or blogs. While hanging out on these sites used to fall squarely into the realm of pastime, that’s no longer the case. Many of the best social networking sites fulfil serious business or personal development needs. That’s why finding ways to use them more efficiently can pay big dividends by allowing you to focus on the rest of your life while keeping up with your social networking tasks. Here are some tools that can help.

Live Writer

If you’re a blogger, you need a tool that lets you blog offline and update your blog when you’re ready - regardless of whether you have direct access to the blog at the moment. Windows Live Writer (http://bit.ly/XIUQ) fits the bill. This tool, free to registered Windows users, ties in to most blogging sites and blogging software - including WordPress - and gives you a slick, word processor-like interface in which to compose blog entries. When you’re ready to publish an entry, either on the spot or at a later date when you’re connected to the internet, just click the Publish button, and you’re done. A nifty scheduling feature even lets you set up a post to be published at a specific day and time - so you might, for instance, compose a blog post to be published a week from now to coincide with some event.

If you happen to maintain and update several blogs, you’ll be happy to know that Live Writer lets you add multiple blog accounts and update one or more of them from the same writing session. Plus you can use the tool’s table editor and spell checker to format and proofread your work, just like in a word processor.

TwitterFeed

Many use Twitter to inform their followers of updates to other sites that they maintain. For instance, people who regularly blog often use Twitter to alert followers to new postings. TwitterFeed (http://twitterfeed.com) helps you automate that chore.

TwitterFeed takes advantage of the RSS (really simple syndication) feature of many web sites to make “tweets” on your behalf. To set up TwitterFeed, you simply provide the RSS feed URL to the site of your choice, allow TwitterFeed to access your Twitter account, set a few options, and you’re done. From that point on, TwitterFeed will keep your Twitter account active - with or without you.

YouTube downloaders

YouTube is brimming with useful videos on almost any topic. The only trouble is that you typically have to be on YouTube to watch them. With YouTube downloaders, you don’t have to. These tools allow you to download a YouTube video to watch later or even re-use in another format, assuming you have the rights.

There are many YouTube downloaders from which to choose. YouTube Downloader (http://bit.ly/HePLJ), for example, is a simple freeware application that downloads YouTube videos and converts them into a format of your choice. Included are formats for iPhone and iPod as well as standard desktop-compatible formats like AVI and WMV.

Literally dozens of other free apps on the market do essentially the same thing. For an conversion tool that you don’t have to install, try Kiss YouTube (http://www.kissyoutube.com), which lets you simply paste a YouTube URL into a box and then click a download link once the video has been converted. Firefox users should give the Video DownloadHelper plugin (http://bit.ly/9pLo0t) a try.

Messaging tools

There’s one thing that most social networking sites have in common: they let you keep in touch with others by posting messages.

Why not, then, have a tool that lets you update all of your social networking sites at once? That’s the idea behind Ping.fm (http://ping.fm), and the service works remarkably well.

Just create an account on Ping, allow the site to connect to your Twitter, Facebook, or other social networking site, and then type a message in the message box, including a URL if you wish. Click Ping It!, and Ping sends out your message to all of your social networking sites at once.

Ping also allows you to set up custom posting groups. So, for example, you can create a custom Ping that will send out a message only to your Facebook and Twitter account and not to your LinkedIn account. Ping supports Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Buzz, and dozens of other social networks, in addition blogging sites like Blogger.

Search engines

Traditional search engines - which rely on store and retrieve technology - aren’t good at indexing up-to-the-minute changes on social networking sites. Collecta http://collecta.com) is.

Collecta specialises in “real time search,” and it focuses on those sites where information is continually updated - specifically social networking sites, news sites, and blogs.

What’s more, Collecta continually updates its search results, and you can see those results being updated in real time. It’s a far cry from the constant refreshing you would need to do at most search engines.

Collecta isn’t the only search engine doing real-time search.

IceRocket (http://www.icerocket.com) and OneRiot (http://www.oneriot.com) have similar missions, scouring the “realtime Web” and presenting you the results.

Know of a good social networking tool that we missed? Send it to jaydougherty.dpa@gmail.com.