Social networking, if you are not in it yet, is like trying to find a seat at Fenway Park – and you don’t have an assigned seat, and you show up late. And you wonder if you should even bother trying to stay with the game. It seems that every other site you hit is wants you to create a user profile and connect with others on the site. So where do you sit?
I think one of the biggest barriers to participating in the web are that people get intimidated by the size and number of social networks that exist today. Facebook has over 300 million users, and is adding half a million users a day. Their growth is only going to slow when the world runs out of people with Internet connections. Another popular site, Linkedin at around 50 million members is geared more to building your professional network.
Now the debate ensues, aren’t these networks just for kids? Seriously, I don’t have time to play on the computer…. (Web Huh, Social What?)
So Lesson #2 is about social networking. What the young kids know is that social networking does not replace a phone call or a face to face conversation with a friend, it provides an additional channel that maximizes the reach of your personal network, allowing you to connect with people you would otherwise never connect to. It is not the equivalent to real networking. But it does facilitate real networking.
Social network “friends” are not real friends, but they are people that are part of your network. Dunbar says that you can only maintain 150 social relationships. Most social networking users have hundreds of connections, and you are not in it to maintain close relationships with all of them. It really comes down to how much you put out there, and how much you want to connect. And then making a conscious decision of the value in doing it.
Get on Facebook – If you are not on Facebook, you are part of a minority. Don’t not participate because you think it is a waste of time – you can choose how much time you spend on it. I keep Facebook strictly personal, for social and for family use. For that reason, I don’t contribute to my profile often, but just enough to listen to what is going on within my network of “friends”. It is actually a great way to connect, keep up to date and plan events with people that you do have real relationships with, and to share pictures of your kids with your family easily. Facebook is also the biggest photo sharing community on the web – there are billions – yes billions – of pictures on Facebook
LinkedIn – This is essentially the professional version of Facebook, complete with discussion, contacts, professional profiles, events planning, and groups. I attended a networking event organized by one of my LinkedIn groups. I went downtown London, had a couple drinks and mingled with 100 members of the London Linked group. So when I say that social networking facilitates real networking, this is what I mean. I met people who I never otherwise would have met. Of course you will argue that the value of these connections is debatable – and yes, 4 people tried to sell me insurance and financial services (but wait, if I was actually looking for insurance and financial advice than those would be good connections made). I also met up with the President of the PMI for south-western Ontario. In my mind, that is a great connection, and a potential real relationship that I will grow.
At the end of the day you will get out of it what you put into it. And along with any other changes in your life, you have to make time to do it, and decide that there is value in doing it.