There has been a lot of news recently about social networking, particularly about the sites Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I’ve participated in a lot of conversations with clients, friends and family members about their curiosity to the benefits of social networking. I’ve found that there is a lot of misinformation and very broad perceptions about this new trend. This month I will give you some personal insight and practical advice about these sites.
I joined LinkedIn a couple of years ago because I received an invitation from a business colleague to “join his network”. At the time, MySpace was just starting to take off, and LinkedIn was being billed as the “MySpace for business professionals”. I had no interest in joining MySpace because I had the perception that it was mostly teenagers and rock bands. But LinkedIn looked like a much more promising place for business professionals to network. So I joined and setup my profile. The site gave me some suggestions of people I might know, so I “Linked Up” with them. Over the years, I slowly built my LinkedIn network by sending and receiving invitations to and from people I knew. I didn’t do much with the site during that time because only a small percentage of people I knew were using the site, and there wasn’t much activity from those people. This has all changed in the past 6 months.
Now, the discussions on the site are much livelier, more people are posting what they are working on, and the amount of people that know about the site has increased dramatically. But the big question is, has anything beneficial come out of the site? From personal experience, I have not hired anyone by networking on the site, nor have I received any referrals that I know of. However, I have had new clients use LinkedIn to check my references by linking to me and then seeing what contacts we have in common, and then contacting those common contacts to confirm my capabilities. Just last week I discovered that one of my contacts is currently looking for a job because his firm downsized and his position was eliminated. So I am now on the lookout for a company that could use his talents. The biggest benefit I find from using the site is being able to stay in contact with my network of business contacts, and getting status updates about what projects they are working on, what books they are reading, and where they are traveling. You never know when that information can come in handy, even if it is just to strike up a conversation the next time you see them. Even though the site hasn’t “revolutionized” my life, it has been well worth the time I have invested in it.
I only recently joined Facebook because I attended an event and several people told me they would post the pictures to Facebook for everyone to see. I had heard about Facebook prior to that, but I was content with using LinkedIn and didn’t see any reason to join. I was under the false impression that Facebook was just like MySpace. Once I finally joined, I quickly learned how much different Facebook was to both LinkedIn and MySpace.
After I setup my profile on Facebook, it used my high school, hometown, and college information to suggest people I should be friends with. Whereas LinkedIn just used my work information for suggestions, Facebook used my personal information. And the suggestions were extremely accurate. Also, since Facebook boasts so many users (over 175 million and counting), I was amazed at how many people I was able to connect with. In just a month’s time, I had more friends on Facebook than I had on LinkedIn, even when LinkedIn had a couple of year’s head-start. I reconnected with high school friends I hadn’t talked to in 20 years, as well as grade school friends I hadn’t seen in over 25 years.
So what do I like about Facebook? One of my favorite features is photo-tagging. I can go to a get-together with friends and family, take some pictures, and then upload them to Facebook. Once there, I can tag people’s faces in photos so that the photos show up under their Facebook accounts so they can see the photos, along with their friends. When you tag a photo, you actually draw a box around a person’s face, so that when someone looks at the picture, they can mouse-over someone’s face and their name will appear. So no more guessing who’s who in pictures! When you post pictures, you have the option of allowing everyone to see them, only your friends, or only certain friends, or no one at all. You can do the same with videos. And after the photos or videos are posted, friends can add their own comments.
I have a high school reunion coming up this summer. We have been using Facebook to find classmates, plan the event, and catch back up on each other’s lives. We have shared photos of our current families, as well as photos of good times in high school. Maybe that’s what the reunion should be for, but there is no way we would be able to find out as much about each other as we have been able to on Facebook. I’m sure we will have plenty to talk about at the reunion, and some of that conversation will revolve around what we have learned about each other via Facebook.
Like LinkedIn, Facebook allows you to let people know what you are doing or thinking through status updates. But most Facebook users update their status much more frequently than LinkedIn, and I am no exception. I change my LinkedIn status about once or twice a month. For instance, on LinkedIn I let people know what book I am reading, conference I am attending, or project I am working on. I change my Facebook status once or twice per day. I let my friends know mundane things like if I enjoyed a movie, what I had for lunch, where I am taking the kids, or just about any other thought I want to share. My friends do the same, and we also comment on each other’s status. It creates this weird running conversation I can check in on anytime from my computer or phone.
Facebook has much more to it than just photos, videos and status updates. It also has groups you can join and pages for causes, celebrities or companies that you can become a fan of. Not to mention a never-ending number of quizzes, surveys, games and other time wasters. One of the applications I have found particularly useful is the birthday calendar. Now I have a calendar of everyone’s birthday, and it notifies me a week in advance when someone’s special day is approaching. I had something like that in my personal calendar, but I had to maintain it. Facebook just uses the information that everyone enters into their profile to build the calendar. That is much more efficient!
People have a hard time grasping Twitter because it is so simple. It doesn’t suggest people you may know like LinkedIn and Facebook. It doesn’t allow you to share photos and videos. It doesn’t have any games or time wasters. All it lets you do is post a text message (called a “tweet”) of up to 140 characters to your account. That’s it. So what’s the big deal? The big deal is you can “follow” just about anyone or anything you want on the site. That means that their tweets show up on a page you can view, and you can choose to have those tweets sent to your cell phone. It works the other way, too. That means people can follow you. That could be friends, family, or just about anyone.
As a personal example, I’m interested in the fact that Lance Armstrong is staging a comeback. It so happens that he sends out tweets all day long about what he is doing. He tweets about what he had for breakfast, how many miles he rode that day, what muscles ache, etc. Some days it feels like I am right there with him.
On the professional side, I follow several twitter feeds that give me up to the minute information about breaking computer technology news. I also follow a health journal to keep up to date on any new health news that’s out. I check in on my twitter feeds about once per day. Since all posts are limited to 140 characters, it makes for some quick reading.
You do have the ability on Twitter to control who follows you, but most people just leave their Twitter feeds open to anyone. You also have the ability to review who is following you, and you can block anyone you choose.
If you are still having difficulty grasping Twitter, check out this little video that explains how it works:
Ready to dive in?
If this all sounds interesting to you, great! All you need is an Internet connection, an e-mail account and some free time. Currently, none of the sites charge fees to setup an account. If you want to improve and strengthen your business network, start with LinkedIn. If you want to get in touch with current or former friends, start with Facebook. If you want an up to the minute news feed on anything in the world, including your friends, start with Twitter.
If you start with Facebook, be prepared to spend quite a bit of time coming up to speed on all of your old friends. I would suggest signing up on that site Friday night before a weekend where you don’t have much to do. Because you will be flooded with people you haven’t heard from in a while asking all kinds of questions. Make sure you fill out your profile as thoroughly as possible, including current city, employer, and also post a current picture. Doing those things will reduce the number of people contacting you asking you “Where do you live now?”, “Where do you work”, “What are you up to”. By default, Facebook allows anyone in your “network” to view your profile, even if they aren’t a friend. By default, your “network” is the city you live in. I would suggest that you modify your profile to only allow your friends to see it.
Better Safe than Sorry
Like any new thing, there are several precautions that you need to be aware of. The first one is to budget your time. For any of these sites, don’t let the sites monopolize your time. Set certain times during the day that you will check the sites, and limit yourself to how much time you spend. Before you access the sites at work, find out what your employer’s policy is on social networking. It is possible that the time you spend on the sites is being monitored. Also check with your spouse. Your spouse may not be happy about you reconnecting with old flames from high school or college. It is better if you both join the sites as a couple to prevent any misunderstandings. These sites are cool, but they aren’t worth losing your job or ruining your marriage.
Be careful what you post. Don’t post pictures that could be dug up if you ever run for public office. Don’t make comments about your friends that you will regret later. If you get in an argument, it is always better to pick up the phone or meet in person, rather than try to hash it out online.
Make sure you set a strong password on your account. There have been several incidents where a person had an easy to guess password on a social network site. A criminal broke into the account and attempted to con that person’s friends into sending money to cover some made-up personal emergency.
For managers and employers
If you are a manager or employer reading this, it is a good idea to update your Internet usage policy and make sure you reference social networking. You also need to communicate that policy to your employees. If you need assistance in putting that policy together, or enforcing the policy, LAN Solutions can assist you. We have web filtering solutions that can block access to certain categories of websites completely, or only during certain times, or we can give users an “allowance” of so much time per day to visit non-productive websites.
There has been a lot of news recently about social networking, particularly about the sites Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I’ve participated in a lot of conversations with clients, friends and family members about their curiosity to the benefits of social networking. I’ve found that there is a lot of misinformation and very broad perceptions about this new trend. In this post I will give you some personal insight and practical advice about these sites.