What’s your social networking mix?
Sure, it's taken some markets by storm, but just how that affects one's business has taken awhile to become clear.
And in many cases the jury is still well and truly out.
Some business operators (often with a vested interests) will claim it's the best thing since sliced bread, while others will write it off as a complete waste of time.
A prime example of horses for courses
What has become clear is that your specific social networking experience is dependent on a range of factors that can't help but differ from person to person.
For example, the younger and more time-rich business operator will have an entirely different social networking experience and in turn benefit, to the older time-poor one.
Likewise, those that service a youth market will have a completely different experience to those that are business-to-business.
Throw a few of these combinations together, say an older, time-poor, business-to-business operator and you get the picture.
This fundamental difference in age, experience, occupation, education, commitments and line of business means that everyone's social networking 'mix' will be completely unique.
In my case, I probably fit the latter description, with the exception that I need to keep abreast of web developments as part of my work. So I need to engage in social networking so I can help advise my clients and readers on how it affects their businesses.
To this end, my approach to social networking hasn't been entirely natural, ie. I haven't followed the normal adoption patterns of the older time-poor, business-to-business operator.
By the same token, my own time poverty has meant that I have gravitated towards the social networking activities that work best for my business and I.
So here then is my own social networking mix, ranked in order of their importance to my business.
I use blogs a little differently to most in that it is both 'published' like a traditional column via SmartCompany and added as articles to my business website – without the normal response/discussion mechanism. In these ways it is more in line with traditional, edited publishing than true social networking.
But my weekly blog has been instrumental in both bringing new business enquiries and helping enhance my credibility. A side affect is that it provides valuable inbound links to my website, thereby improving my business prominence on search engines.
I am experiencing a growing fascination with and use of LinkedIn, the 'business' social network. LinkedIn is designed specifically as a community of employees used for business networking unlike Facebook and MySpace which can be for anyone.
One of the most useful features of LinkedIn is its 'Groups' facility, which allows formal or informal special interest groups to network, share ideas and promote job opportunities. It also has a daily 'digest' which brings the day's discussion topics to your email Inbox – a real time saver.
It's also an invaluable means of promoting your own events and business news to the Groups you are a member of.
I have to confess that I probably wouldn't be that bothered with Twitter if I didn't have to use it as a research experiment. I find that despite only being 140 characters of information, it can still chew up valuable time which I need to conserve to make a living.
But if used appropriately, it can be a great source of information about many aspects of business as well as a means to promote what you and your business are doing. And yes the occasional distraction from one's work can be beneficial to your emotional health in much the same way as water cooler conversation can.
I wouldn't use video sharing network Vimeo at all if YouTube was capable of storing longer videos. But the webinars I produce and need to show online are at least 60 minutes long, which is much longer than YouTube allows.
Facebook has almost zero benefit to my business. I use it almost exclusively as a way of keeping in touch with friends and family – some of whom I'd have very little contact with if not for this network.
There are others too that I'm not sure even qualify as social networking. For example, I use Editgrid as a shared online status tool for projects. And GoToWebinar to present webinars.
Others I am looking at trying out include Slideshare, a presentation sharing network and Podcasts. But you only have so much time in the day.
Nice while they lasted...
Like most rapidly moving, free developments, some social networks that I've tried have fallen by the wayside.
I tried using MySpace for awhile but these days there are spinefex blowing down this lonely information superhighway. I've had a play with Second Life but was concerned it could become both addictive and even a little disturbing!
I indulged my passion for all things music in virtual radio station Blip.fm but found it too addictive and time consuming. Similarly I loved virtual jukebox Last.fm but in addition to being a bandwidth hog they started charging to use it.
So for someone 'cautious' about social networking, you could say that I've spread my caution a long way!
But what it indicates is that despite what you might hear, it's unlikely that a single social network is going to revolutionise your business.
Instead, steady trial and error, ideally with some impartial guidance, will determine the social networks that are best going to benefit your business.
And it's now safe to say that benefit your business they will.
So what's your social networking mix? Let us know below.
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Craig Reardon is a leading eBusiness educator and founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which provide the gamut of ‘pre-built' website solutions, technologies and services to SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.