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Jinfo BlogSurvival Guide: Online Social Networking

Saturday, 1st September 2007

By Shally Steckerl

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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 survival tool.

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.

Forging relationships

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 applications.

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.

Major benefits

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 advantages:

You can contact people in your network to:

Find new leads for networking into companies to:

Major players

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 grows.

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:

LinkedIn.com

Plaxo.com

Spoke.com

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

Privacy

Barriers to entry

Maintenance

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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