03 Sep

What is “Social Networking” anyway?

social-networkingWe hear this term frequently in the media, but what does it actually mean and refer to? Social networking is an umbrella term used to describe sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Neighbourly and Twitter. Social networking is a term used to denote the trend toward people connecting and interacting online.

Much is now being written on how these sites and trends can be used to promote commercial interests on the web, focusing mostly on engaging customers and interacting with them in new ways.

For example many website owners have been advised to start a Facebook page, yet few of them get more than a handful “likes” and “friends” and the page becomes a negative advertisement, damned with faint praise.

For this strategy to work, the business owner (or their agents, in the case of Donald Trump, Richard Branson or Anthony Robbins) has to be constantly “posting” and gathering “friends”. This creates an overhead for a small business, and often the small business owner spends hours posting and promoting too a very small number of “friends” or “followers”… where their time could be spent in other areas of their business, making a real difference.

Also, as they don’t own their page on Facebook, or anything they post there, they are playing someone else’s game and not their own. The small business owner mistakes Facebook for a website substitute. It simply doesn’t do what their own website could, it can be a useful adjunct, but it is certainly not the main game.

Which site should I use for What?

Also people are confused about what social networking site does what, so here is the skinny…

Facebook: used for connecting with friends and family for mostly personal reasons… sharing life events, thoughts and feelings, posting photos and inviting people to functions. Companies can create a page on Facebook as discussed above.

Twitter: the so-called “micro blogging” site used by an author to expound and digress on a topic of interest… but only in 256 characters (about the length of an SMS message). People “follow” the author and can interact with them. Ideal for experts wanting to engage a niche audience.

LinkedIn: used by mostly white collar workers to network. The site provides work history, qualifications, referrals and recommendations. Recently blogging was added to the site and job ads are posted there.

Neighbourly: designed to connect neighbours and build community.

So to summarise, Facebook is to connect to friends and family, Twitter to engage a niche audience, LinkedIn to build a professional network and Neighbourly to connect to those in your immediate geography – in other words, they all do something quite different to each other and its best to use the right tool for the right job eg. posting a Facebook styled post on LinkedIn would make the author look foolish.

Privacy and Copyright

But it is not all good. There have been concerns about privacy and the ownership of images and materials uploaded to these sites. Facebook particularly coming in for close criticism as it claims copyright on all pictures and comments added in an individuals feed. The bottom line is common sense (as it is in the offline world)… if you do not want some corporation to claim copyright on your photo, don’t upload it. Don’t make anyone a “friend” who simply isn’t.

Also, people are still learning how to use these sites, so sometimes they are unaware of what they are sharing with whom. For example, if they upload a picture of a group of people to Facebook, people who are friends with the person posting can “tag” the people in the picture ie. interact with the picture. When they do that, all of the people who are “friends” of the tagged person pictured, get a notification, alerting many more people to the picture than the original poster could have anticipated.

Summary

One thing is certain, we are going to be doing more social networking as people’s physical location becomes less relevant and work practices more flexible. Wikipedia’s outline on social networking is here >>