Saturday, 1st September 2007
Online social networking provides you with a venue to connect with
people whom you already know, grow your relationships and find new
people connected to you by a common contact. Effective utilisation of
your personal network is no longer a competitive advantage, it is a
Although the hackneyed phrase 'it's who you know' has been abused by
companies touting their latest and greatest flavour of social
networking software, it's not far off the mark. The truth is that in
today's over-informed digital business world, where bloated data moves
at the speed of thought, it is not who you know that really counts,
but who knows you. Professional online social networking tools are
invaluable in creating personal brand equity and raising awareness
about who you are.
There is a significant business need for these tools as aids to help
us expand our professional influence beyond the Dunbar number.
According to theories evolving from Social Networking Architecture
research, anthropologist Robin Dunbar
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar's_number> estimates that humans
can only maintain stable relationships with around 150 people. That
number refers to significant relationships such as those in a family
or tribe and other purposeful groups.
However, in "The Tipping Point", Malcolm Gladwell explores the Dunbar
number's effects on the dynamics of social groups, and those theories
have been popularised and given rise to many business-related
Systems for managing and sharing relationships have been around for a
long time. From the original contact management systems like ACT! and
GoldMine, to the very first networking sites like sixdegrees.com, they
all walk a fine line between sharing too much information and not
enough to be of use. However, they have all tried to multiply our
ability to maintain business relationships with hundreds, or even
thousands, of people.
There is one important weakness in this new generation of
collaborative social networking. If users do not trust the system to
protect their relationships, then they will not use the application
effectively and gain very little incremental advantage from their
connections. On the other hand, too much protection limits the
effective range or depth of penetration achievable within a user's
extended 'friend of a friend' network, thus also limiting the
effectiveness of such a network.
Somewhere between those two extremes lies the advantage of a well-
utilised and semi-trusted professional social network.
Online social networking software enables you to find quality people
who may not be familiar with you or with your organisation, and
creates an opportunity to connect with them and sell them on your
opportunities. They may be unfamiliar with your company or business,
or may not have even been looking for something.
Because you already know someone who knows them, you can feel more
comfortable that they are a quality prospect. Also, because of that
mutual connection, you can more easily overcome cumbersome barriers
and begin a relationship with a little more trust and warmth than with
a total stranger. Like 'six degrees of Kevin Bacon', social networking
sheds light on the contacts you never knew you had. Here are some
You can contact people in your network to:
Find new leads for networking into companies to:
With most services, the initial sign up is free. Users begin by
filling out a form with personal data and then inviting friends. Some
networks allow for uploading current contacts, but others ask users to
invite contacts directly through the application's interface. The
connections then invite their own contacts, and that's how the network
There are hundreds of online social networking sites. Most of the
applications competing for your attention offer a combination of
professional and personal networking. Some are better suited to find a
date while others are more seriously oriented to business. After
joining and reviewing the top 20 players, three of them stand out:
There are so many social networks that they are too numerous to list
in this article. A majority of them, like friendster.com, flickr.com
and orkut.com among hundreds of others tend to revolve around strictly
social categories like dating, common interests, finding friends and
photo sharing. Arguably, community Web logging sites like MySpace.com,
Windows Live Spaces, LiveJournal.com and Blogger.com are also
networking sites. Here are some other notable networks with a
decidedly business or professional purpose, ranked by size:
Concerns with networking sites
Barriers to entry
Integration with software and between networks
Losing touch with the 'Real'
Free now, pay later?
Social Networking is getting involved and getting your name out every
chance you get. Like meeting people in person, it can be hit or miss.
The single most powerful advantage of online networking is finding new
connections you didn't know you already had. It takes time and energy
to build a network, either in person or online. With the Internet we
have the ability to reach more people.
Don't be afraid to connect, stay connected, share, participate, be
vulnerable, open yourself to the world. Being connected in this way is
an incredible leverage that will prove invaluable in your business
development. Connections can have many unexpected positive results.
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