On the topic of social media applications, there seem to be three types of people: the super users, the avoiders, and the people that say, “I know I need to, but which ones and why?” Most business people probably fall into the last group: the ocean of people who lie between the early-adopter über-geeks and those mind-boggling creatures who only check their email once a week or so. Yes, there’s potential there for good things to happen…if you’re actively using the right applications.
The number of applications and communities is overwhelming. Many of the most popular ones, like MySpace and YouTube, aren’t going to be all that helpful for professional interaction. That’s not true for every industry, though, so it’s worth asking around and seeing what your communities are using. If your colleagues, contacts, and customers are all using some other method of connecting, by all means go participate there. The point of this is for you to be able to make useful, meaningful connections and interact.
LinkedIn is a simple, useful tool for any professional. This is the business networking equivalent of being listed in the phone book. It doesn’t require very much attention and can provide a great deal of benefit. Spending half an hour building your profile lets you put your CV out there, easily find your network of contacts, and be visible for the sort of notice you want to receive. If you want to do more, there are great community features. People can recommend you and your work. You can ask questions through LinkedIn Answers and get answers from people who actually know what they’re talking about. If you need to hire someone or are looking for a job, it’s an ideal place to put out feelers. You won’t get clobbered with email from LinkedInjust one summarizing any updates your contacts made during the weekso use your real, regular address to ensure that you don’t miss out on something important.
If you want to add something more interactive, more personal, and a bit more relaxed, Facebook is your next step. The service has exploded in the business sector lately, which is probably due to all the people who used it in college and have moved into the workforce. It’s a good way to connect with people in your industry through groups and keep on top of events of interest. It’s more social and casual than LinkedIn, but less messy and far more professional than MySpace. You can talk about events and ideas through group and event pages, instantly notify people of changes to meet-up plans, and more. This has the added benefit of being useful in your personal life. If you don’t already have a ton of friends on Facebook, you probably will soon enough.
Among the tech elite, Twitter is the place to be right now. Maybe you read about it after its usage during SXSW was all over the internet. Be warned that it’s a love it or hate it thing and can be addictive. Twitter is a micro-blogging or micro-chat service where you can make posts of up to 140 characters. You can follow people and see their “tweets”, they can follow you and see your “tweets”. Only follow the people you really enjoy or benefit fromCEOs, the A-list bloggers, the professional contactsand don’t feel like you have to follow everyone who follows you. If you participate and have a similarly-minded network of people that follow you, Twitter can be a very powerful tool. What’s even better is that you can ask questions and get answers from people who actually know. Need to know which spam filter for your blogging software is best? Ask your Twitter network. You can use the service through web, text messaging, and a host of widgets and services. While you can monitor tweets constantly, you can also take a break for a couple of weeks, come back, and not be behind or swimming in a sea of things that require your feedback.
If the reason you haven’t tried any of this already is because you don’t want to put your life online where everyone can see it, relax. You’re in control of what you put up and how much information you give out. Be judicious in what you put on your profiles, but don’t be afraid of having your life be a little bit public. The benefits of giving people a face to put with the name and a sense of who you are far outweigh any risks you are worried about. These services don’t just build connections, but they do the important work of humanizing us in our online relationships. In the end, it’s all about the relationship anyway, isn’t it?