Networking used to be attending special interest meetings, exchanging business cards, and making phone calls. Today, it’s still that. However, the growth of social networking sites has enhanced the experience in many new ways.
Sites like Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIN, and other community oriented groups makes it easy to connect with old acquaintances and new connections. I’ve been to professional meetings and later connected to people I met over LinkedIN. On the flip side, I’ve been to casual social gathers and connected on Facebook. Other status updating sites like Twitter, makes it even easier to connect to random people you’ve never met. More importantly, as you “follow” their stream of updates, you eventually get to know them really well, often even better than your real friends. Many active social networking advocates even go as far as recommending that you build an online presence, or more accurately, an online brand through these social networking sites. See Social Media Reality Check: How Deep is Your Brand – Tiffany Monhollon.
The logic behind this is simple: social media has the ability to connect you to some of the most influential, popular, and interesting people in the world. The problem behind how many people apply this logic is also simple: simply having the word “friend” or “follow” between you and someone else doesn’t mean a real connection exists. – Tiffany Monhollon
The act of “friending” someone is very similar to trading business cards, except the online profile reveals so much more information. Rather than simply a contact tool, it opens the window into a person’s personal and professional portfolio. While person to person networking is essential (See Networking is Critical to Business Success – Newly Corporate), here are five reasons for using social networking sites to connect to people:
- Economies of scale – Unlike your Rolodex, it takes very little time to go from a handful of connections to hundreds and even thousands. With a few keystrokes and a click of the mouse, you can broadcast information to your network, as well as receive a constant stream of information from them. Just don’t forget about quality vs. quantity: It’s about the QUALITY of your connections – Jun Loayza.
- Ease of use – While it can be intimidating to understand the concepts of feeds and streams, once you have things setup, it’s pretty much “set it and forget it.” The amount of resources (time and money) required to maintain online networks is vastly less than person-to-person networks. Even tools such as socialminder sends you weekly e-mails to remind you who to contact and even recommends articles to send to your contact.
- Record keeping and analysis – For better or for worse, online interactions are logged and archived, usually at the loss of personal privacy. However, it also keeps a history of your social interactions to your network. New tools, such as socialminder, even provides analytics on how often you are communicating with key contacts, and even recommends news articles to initiate conversation.
- Open doors – Social networks grants you access to a vast range of issue topics and group interests, all at your finger tips. There’s no geographical constraints or resource restrictions. For example, go search Twitter for key words and you’ll have instant access to thousands of people interested in that topic.
- Leverage the power of crowds – Never before has it been possible to pose questions to your network and get responses so quickly. Sites such as Digg uses the power of the crowd to percolate items of interest through online voting whiles sites like Alltop uses complex algorithms along with the constant “chatter” online to bring resources of interest to the top.
While nothing beats having a sit down cup of coffee with a business associate, it can’t hurt to expand your network exponentially using social networking tools. However, just don’t think that your online social network is a real indicating of how many “friends” or “followers” you truly have. That requires old fashion “keeping in contact” with people through real conversations and discussions. Social networking sites are only a mechanism for doing so and doesn’t replace one-on-one interactions.
Furthermore, the ease of these sites and the ability to reach hundreds and thousands of contacts can be a curse in of itself. As the number of sites you use, and the number of friends or follows you have increases, the level of effort also increases and brand dilution occurs.
My next project is to develop a social media/networking goal setting worksheet and strategy document a la Social Media Reality Check: How Deep is Your Brand – Tiffany Monhollon. The tool will assess your goals and purpose for maintaining each site and determine the optimal sites to allocate your resources. Any preliminary thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated in the comments section.