Exploring Social Networking Sites

As appeared in the Presence Pointers column of the February 2009 issue of “Business Watch” magazine.

Last month we started down the path to social media and setting into motion some tactics that could make 2009 an unbelievable year for you by going over some of the Social Media Networking Fundamentals. Now, it really gets interesting as we roll up our sleeves and take a gander at some of the venues to explore.

Ala Carte

First, it’s important to remember that social media takes commitment and time. Secondly, it’s important to understand that social media isn’t one-size fits all. You need to look at the social media offerings as an ala carte menu, not a buffet. Carefully select what interests you and makes the most sense for you, rather than trying to follow the pack or filling up your plate with everything in sight.

With that said, one way to size up social media venues is based on how active or passive they may be. I’ll point out some examples here to give you an idea, but even the most passive venues still aren’t “set and forget.” Also keep in mind that I’m just providing a few appetizers of highly popular venues that span across a number of different types, but the list of venues and types is nearly endless.

Going Old School

Online forums often get overlooked or not counted by some as being social media or Web 2.0, but I still think they served as the birth for social media. Forums may exist as a site or as part of a site. You’ll quickly recognize their familiar “message board” format where people post a message within a specific category, and then other members and the original poster begin a back-and-forth conversation.

In this case, there aren’t specific examples because it really comes down to niche. The niche may be topical (e.g., business, hobby, etc.), geographical (e.g., city, state, region, etc.), or just about anything else or combination (e.g., condo home buyers in Madison). Forum participation can become time consuming, but it is something that you can also control fairly easily.

Share and Share Alike

Other popular social media venues revolve around things like images and video. Flickr.com and YouTube.com are top examples. Here you create an account and upload photos or videos to share with others. These can be fairly passive venues that provide additional online exposure. And if you have limited storage space or bandwidth for your Web site, you get these other sites to take the hit for you when you embed them into your site.

Videos can be especially useful, such as creating demonstrations or how-to guides. People interested in your topic might come across your video, watch it, and then click over to your Web site for more information. These venues can be more active if you decide to participate on the sites by responding to comments and questions or in communicating with others, but this isn’t a requirement.

Personal and Professional Networking

Facebook.com, MySpace.com, and LinkedIn.com are big venues for networking. While the first two tend more toward the personal and the latter toward professional, the lines are pretty gray. Effectiveness of these venues requires a bit more active participation. They each have their own style, flavor, demographics — though that’s blurring more and more as well — and rules. As a first step, I’d still recommend getting started on LinkedIn if you haven’t already (refer back to the June ’08 issue if you have it or pop over to the Instillery and read “Are You Linked In?”).

As I mentioned, this is just barely scratching the surface. Unfortunately, there is no way to go into an in-depth discussion here about specific strategies as they really must be tailored to your needs.

Tips for Social Success

  • Visit social venues and get a lay of the land, how they feel for you and how they might work for your needs.
  • Determine how much time you think they may take (then double that) and how much time you think you can put into them.
  • Consider different options, such as joining and actively participating, or online advertising through these venues.
  • Read and understand the rules for the venue, especially as it may pertain to commercial activity or business, but also get a feel for the unwritten rules of etiquette.
  • Turn back to January’s article for a reminder of some of the general basics.