Social Networking: Explore The Professional Advantages
Until recently, my only experience with social networking was the constant whine of my 13-year-old daughter each time I denied her requests to construct a page on MySpace. I thought I had heard the last of this battle until my youngest daughter requested permission to also join an online network called KinzChat, a site created for owners of Webkinz stuffed toys. Although these examples represent truly social sites, they offer a great illustration of how pervasive the concept of social networking has become.
These sites (and hundreds of others) are all derivatives of the Web 2.0 phenomenon — the trend of using the Internet and creative Web design to enhance information sharing and collaboration among users. The creation and expansion of Web-based communities has become loosely referred to as social networking. Of course, these sites can be fun from a personal perspective, but what about within the business arena? Can social networking afford users any professional benefit? It depends on your approach.
Just as in face-to-face networking, success hinges upon following the same basic ground rules. First, find the right network. There are many to choose from, and each has its own purpose. As a VAR, if you are looking to broaden or share your professional knowledge, look for technology-specific communities. If you are looking to identify new prospects, join networks that most closely match the profiles of the customers you wish to attract. These could be either vertically focused (e.g. healthcare) or horizontally focused (e.g. human resources). Second, make the right connections within your networks. When your purpose is professional growth, the importance is not the quantity of direct connections you make, but the quality. Don't just add everyone to your direct connections willy-nilly. Restrict this to contacts you know and trust. These quality contacts will automatically bring along a surprisingly large crop of indirect connections that you can query for specific needs in the future should the need arise. Lastly, be diligent with your network. Like face-to-face networking, it is important to stay active. The more familiar you become with your online networks and how they operate, the easier it becomes to leverage the potential of the connections you make, both direct and indirect. If you follow these simple steps, you will be heading in the right direction to gain a lot of value from your social networks.
I'm still a social networking novice, but I'm amazed at how easily I was able to make (and use) key contacts. My advice to VARs that haven't already joined a social network or two — try it. Whether you're looking for a new employee, a new customer, or simply an answer or suggestion to any other business problem — you'll be able to ask your network. You might be surprised by how quickly the answers, advice, or perhaps even customers, find their way back to you.