IS SOCIAL NETWORKING (MEDIA) REAL OR USEFUL?

IS SOCIAL NETWORKING (MEDIA) REAL OR USEFUL?

There is a huge industry buzz on whether or not Social Media Networking is useful for business development, career transition and job search, or simply for learning more about your industry as career experience growth.  MySpace and Facebook are two of the most popular websites on the planet!

Facebook is rated as the top website[i] for Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Singapore Facebook, with Facebook being ranked number two in the United States.  As of December 22, 2009, 18-34 year olds[ii], females, mostly without children, and some college or graduate school made up the most avid users, with the majority of those accessing the site from home or school.

MySpace is ranked as number five in the US, appeal more to users with a little or no college, with more female users, and access primarily from home.  The only country where MySpace is more popular is Puerto Rico.

Using these baseline statistics, it’s easy to simplify the target market demographics for Facebook and MySpace.  You aim for an ‘over-representation’ of the target market – females, with no children, with high school, some college or four-year degrees, who are accustomed to accessing the sites from home or school, and living in the US.  It’s easy to surmise these are truly ‘personal’ social networking sites.

LinkedIn is targeted more toward business and professional networking and connections, with a traffic rank of 19.  It’s ‘over-represented’ by visitors who are between the ages of 25 – 54, slightly more females than males, with some children, with some college, four-year degrees, and some graduate degrees, as well as many of these users are accessing the site from their work locations (home or office).  So the demographics here are just as simple – users (slightly more females than males) concentrating on their professional careers, but have children at home, with college degrees, living in the US, who access LinkedIn from their office or work sites.

Now we know who primarily uses these social networking sites, we can decide how best to use them.  Your product or service has a target market toward which you need to concentrate efforts for developing sales, business, contacts, and industry experts.  Or you may be interested in developing contacts for future career growth, or for recruiting subject matter experts for placing qualified candidates within your company.

Do visitors to Social Networking sites for business purposes use them appropriately? Or is your goal to simply link with as many friends, family, and business connections as possible?  Just collecting connections is not social networking – that’s playing a numbers game.  There are LinkedIn users who claim over a million first level connections, but what is the purpose of having that many people linked to you other than being able to send an electronic message to everyone in the world?  Collecting connections is not meaningful unless they are ‘meaningful.’

On the opposite side of the coin, limiting how many connections you accept within these electronic social networking sites to what users believe is a  ‘manageable level’ also undercuts the ability to link with those who are interested in connecting to ask for favors.  There was a story about a Hollywood producer who wouldn’t help a friend reach an even more important producer, because he didn’t want to ‘use up’ all his favors.  What he didn’t realize – if you call in a favor, you also allow the person who grants it to ‘ask a return favor’ in the future.  If you don’t use your favors – you lose the ability to allow others to ask you for favors in return.

Facebook was created as a social networking site originally for Harvard University then expanded to other Ivy League schools, and in turn to geographically local colleges and universities to the Boston area, started accepting high school student users, and finally to ‘everyone’ with an interest in joining.  As of September of 2009, there were over 350 million Facebook profiles.[iii]

The media has written multiple stories for every business arena expounding the use of networking through social media.  Use social media to recruit!  Use social media to develop business!  Use social media to get a new job!   But users will get onto the sites and send invitations to their friends and then stop.  Entrepreneurs and business developers will send out invites to connect to their Yahoo®, Gmail®, or AOL® address books, but once that initial and easy step is completed, that’s all the action they take other than inviting more friends to join connections.

But collecting connections isn’t what social networking is about.  The Online Etymology Dictionary[iv] notes the origins of the word social as meaning: “characterized by friendliness or geniality,” also “allied, associated,” from M.Fr. social (14c.), from L. socialis “united, living with others,” from socius “companion,” probably originally “follower,” and related to sequi “to follow.”  It would be reasonable to assume that when you socialize with someone, you keep up with them, you meet and socialize with them face-to-face (or as pen pals, whether with real paper or electronically), and you become associated with them in a group of others with similar likes and/or dislikes.

There are some other exciting websites where you can expand your electronic social networking to in-person social networking.  MeetUp.com[v] is a site enabling users to plug in a zip code and find others with the same interests in a geographic area.  It’s an excellent and rich website where its free to join to meet others who are small businesses, entrepreneurs, or hobbyists looking for social exchange or business card exchange with others.  EventBrite.com[vi] is another with the ability to plan and electronically notify your ‘network’ about meetings, social networking events, or even parties.   For both of these, there may be a small monthly fee required, depending upon the level of use.

I am very interested in blogging, and recently have increased my WordPress blog uploads, as well as cruising around their website to read other interesting posts by other professionals, political pundits, and industry leaders.  So I recently caught a notice about a new group in the local Hampton Roads, Virginia area that advertised a meeting for a new Social Media & Blogging group, and decided to accept and drop in for a peek.  This group met at a local restaurant, had a social hour before the actual ‘meeting’ where ‘socialers’[vii] could share business cards, then broke up into groups of about four to six persons where a more experienced technical person ‘showed us’ the ropes, tips, techniques for developing blogs for personal or business purposes.  In the space of an hour I learned the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org, building a website, which websites provide SQL database support, and enjoyed the question and answer session facilitated by a local entrepreneur who enjoyed sharing his knowledge.

During the summer of 2009, I attended between four to ten business networking group meetings weekly. Some were Business Network International (BNI) sponsored groups, some were independent entrepreneur efforts, and others were Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) representative sponsored groups for Avon, Mary Kay, Shaklee, Arbonne, and Amway.  Some of the groups were independently sponsored entrepreneurial networking groups with membership fees, while others were free for members to join and participate.

The purpose for all these groups were to: 1) meet other entrepreneurs and business people, 2) share business cards, referrals, and references, as well as kudos for services experienced from group members, and 3) – most importantly – to develop a comfortable relationship with group members that might eventually turn into a business relationship.  This is the true key to social networking.  Social networking is not just electronically connecting with faceless names on the Internet.  It’s meeting folks and getting comfortable with them enough to develop the trust to do business.

If you have read the Tipping Point[viii] by Malcolm Gladwell, you’d understand a product or service ‘takes off’ exponentially in the market the more people talk about it.  Public relations and marketing specialists know a close personal friend telling you about a product or service has an extrinsically higher value than hundreds of thousands of dollars of advertising, coupons, mailers, radio, and television ads to persuade the market to buy their company’s product or service.  The best marketing campaigns in the world start off with, “I want to…do you know…?” or “I need…what would you recommend…?”

This is the crux of social networking – being able to not only recommend someone you know to a friend, family member, or co-worker, but also the product or service that comes with the recommendation, based on the personal relationship built through knowledge, comfort, and trust.

Dawn Boyer is a student at Old Dominion University in the Darden College of Education, working on her PhD in Occupational Studies and Technology (STEMS), as well as working as a Doctoral Teaching Assistant. She has over 19 year of senior management experience in human resources, nine years of which is in the defense, contracting arena. Ms. Boyer also provides human resources consulting services to small businesses, including small and dynamically growing defense companies, in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area.

Her LinkedIn profile is:  http://www.linkedin.com/in/DawnBoyer and she accepts all LinkedIn invites via Dawn.Boyer@me.com.


[i] http://www.alexa.com/

[ii] Statistics based on ‘over-representation’ of this demographic; metrics from Alexa.com reported on 12/22/09.

[iii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facebook#cite_note-5; this metric may include users with multiple profiles, i.e., personal profile, business profile, company (employer) profile, or special interest profile(s), as well as profiles for users who lost passwords, passed away, etc., and may be ‘inactive’ accounts.

[iv] http://www.etymonline.com/

[v] http://www.meetup.com/

[vi] http://www.eventbrite.com/

[vii] This is my creative new term for those socializing via networking groups on a regular basis – in essence, a social networking hobbyist or hard-core business development marketing and PR person.

[viii] Back Bay Books (January 7, 2002)

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2 Responses

  1. […] IS SOCIAL NETWORKING (MEDIA) REAL OR USEFUL? December 2009 2 comments 3 […]

  2. Social networking really works upon getting potential clients it let you expand your connection specifically with in the same niche.

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