If you haven’t figured this all out, the reason the world is going all social networking happy is because this is your means to connect to people directly and get away from the rigid structure of corporate ladders and protocol and hierarchy. It’s a way to extend your audience of friends, colleagues, business partners, and teammates. The whole point of this is to build your new world map from the digits and bits and free hugs left floating out there on the Internet in search of you. Did you know that? People are trying to find you and connect.
Why so many platforms?
Just like in real life, there are tons of networks, and they each have their own spin. There are presence networks like Twitter and Jaiku. There are broader platforms like Facebook or the less elegant MySpace. And there are networks with themes like Flickr for photos, or LinkedIN for business. There are do-it-yourself social platforms like Ning. I could name tons more sites (and all those links are to my profiles on all those sites), but you get the point.
Why so many? Because there are different reasons to be part of different groups. And all of these groups drive one thing: connection to other people who share similar interests.
Social Networks are the New Chambers of Commerce
I believe if you’re a business, or belong to a certain profession, that joining the trade organizations and consortiums and chambers are all important duties to continue doing in the “real world.” But it is just as important to establish your footprint in virtual spaces, like Second Life, where plenty of real world business is being transacted every day. On top of this, these personal social networks like the Twitters and the Facebooks are important ways to reach out and establish relationships. And if you join some of the non-work-heavy sites like a Flickr, you get the added benefit or proving to prospective customers, clients, and colleagues that you’re a real human being, talented, and not just some kind of corporate robot.
Tie them all together
I’m a big fan of Wink, as a site that ties all kinds of various tools together. They mix everything from your SMS messages in Twitter to your photo stream to your del.icio.us bookmarking all neatly into one package. Then, should you keep a blog, they make a really cool widget you can add into your sidebar or place on a page, such that someone can quickly and easily connect to you through all your various social outlets. See an example here.
Tips for newcomers
You get what you put in, is my first point to make. Second, the first thing you should do upon joining ANY social network, is determine how things are done, the social norms of the environment. For instance, I joined a community that operates via mail lists, and I ended up sounding a little too “pitchy” for people. They got mad pretty quick. Had I read a few dozen emails from other group members, I would’ve understood the “lay of the land” a little better.
I recommend using your picture everywhere you can. On my blog, I griped about LinkedIN not having photos as part of a profile page, and got a neat response from the company, but really, most of these other places permit a user picture. Resist the urge to put your logo, and throw a headshot up there. Make it more personal that way.
The real return on social networks
Most of my friends over the last several months got jobs through a social network. Real, paying jobs. They found things they were passionate about, met the people deep within organizations that mattered to them, and they tied those relationships together. Do I need to tell you more than that? You can’t do that with a corporate directory. You can’t do that with the average ad. Meet real people, connect, build relationships. It’s how this gets done these days.
Chris Brogan blogs at [chrisbrogan.com]. He got his current job creating the Video on the Net conference by creating a free unconference called PodCamp. Meet him in Stockholm Sweden, 12-14 June, at PodCamp Europe.
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