There was a time to learn how to use e-mail, texting, and even an ATM, but when is the right time to begin using social networks? The answer may be that you have already started.
Thirty-five percent of American adults already have a profile on a social media web site. While it falls short of the 65 percent of teens who use online social networks, it represents a four-fold increase in just three years, according to research by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
Usage among teens and adults continue to grow for the same reason: the evolving content is pertinent to them. Friends, stories, music and community continue to drive usage today much in the same way it did in communities centuries ago. The difference: once there were storytelling, later books, then radio, television and now computer and mobile phone content. It was always content driven and it was always social.
Most of us can still remember our grandparents or even great- grandparents telling us stories of what a small world this has become. Oh, if they could only see us now.
Many people I know are getting “friended” on Facebook by people who they went to elementary school with. Most of them didn’t talk to those people then and don’t want to speak with them now. On the other hand, there is that rare find of that person you’ve really been looking to reconnect with.
So where do you jump in to the huge vat of social networking?
There are some people who are active on more than a dozen social networking sites. I would like to think they have jobs and maybe even lives and can’t spend the time on all these sites. I suggest you find the right tools for what is relevant to you.
Amanda Lenhart, Senior Research Specialist of the Pew study says in her summary that “Online social network applications are mainly used for explaining and maintaining personal networks, and most adults, like teens, are using them to connect with people they already know.”
If that is your goal, Facebook and LinkedIn are networks in which it is easy to control what you want to see and say. However, I see the condition of the economy is hastening a change of people reaching out beyond their existing network to new professional contacts.
Before I go any further there is one thing you need to think about: Personal Branding. YOU are the brand, online and off the web. If that sounds ridiculous to you, Google someone you know and look at all the results. Trust me, someone is going to Google you, and you can control a good part of what they see. Not all the results, but enough to show you are managing your reputation.
Writing your own blog is a part of controlling your message. That can be done for free at WordPress.com or Blogger.com. If you aren’t passionate about something you’re willing to write about on a regular basis, give it a pass for now – but keep it in mind for later.
How you want to portray yourself online is your choice. I suggest setting several easy-to-follow guidelines.
The first rule of any marketing effort is to know your audience. Who will be looking to appraise you based on your online presence? More than half of all HR departments now check LinkedIn before calling someone for an interview. Make sure your LinkedIn account is complete, positive, and up to date. Even if you aren’t looking for a job, now is the time to get the content ready.
Keep your branding simple so you can keep it consistent. Pardon the corny sounding mantra, but “Be the message.” If that means keeping your conversation intelligent, short and conservative, so be it. If you are more fun than that, just be aware that humor doesn’t always travel well online. Research the profiles of others who are doing this successfully, as their blog or in LinkedIn accounts can be a great teacher.
Use the right tools—but, which web tools are best for you to reach the first and second rules?
LinkedIn is growing their community tools and allowing you to answer questions in your field. This is a good way to show your smarts with low risk.
Digg and Del.icio.us allow you to show off your interests based on what you bookmark.
Twitter, the popular microsharing site is so real-time it comes with its own warnings. This applies to all of these sites but is vital for Twitter – watch first, and participate slowly at least to start. Nobody cares what you had for breakfast, unless it was really unusual, and maybe not even then. Stick to your branding rules. Since it can take up to four weeks to get a good following (and people for you to follow), you really get to learn about these people.
Friendfeed allows you to merge feeds from Twitter and several other networks, including Facebook to a single platform. Some people find this more confusing; some more convenient. Play, and have fun with it.
Social networks have done for communities what Heelys (sneakers with wheels) have done for transportation: made it fun, effective and perhaps a little dangerous, so proceed with caution.
Wayne Kurtzman is a senior marketing analyst who loves the shiny toys of technology and online communities. He has led knowledge management and web analytics practices for startups and larger companies including Intel. Wayne also is active at the international level of Destination ImagiNation, a not-for-profit organization that fosters teamwork, innovation, and creative problem solving skills in students from kindergarten through college.