Social Networking, Part III
“I’m so confused! What is “social networking” and why should I be doing it?”
“I went to some of the sites you told me about, and I’m just completely lost! They all seem so different, and I have no idea how to use them!”
“I feel like I’m swimming, or better: drowning in a sea of information, and most of it seems to be irrelevant. How do I make sense of it all?”
These are some of the things I hear when I’m teaching about social networking. If my student has had any real exposure to the web lately, they’ve heard the term. They know it’s new, they know it’s important, even vital. But they have no idea what it means, or how they should be a part of it.
Let’s face it, there are a Whopping Lot of social networking sites out there. Even though they all are places for people to communicate with each other and interact, they all function a little bit differently and that makes it all very confusing and overwhelming. Let’s sort through the chaos and bring a little order and clarify by sorting them into a few simple categories. Sites and strategies within the same category can be approached in similar ways, and that makes them easier to understand.
When blogging started out, it really wasn’t a social networking phenomenon. It was more a “personal publishing” thing. You create a blog, you write in it, other people find it and read it. But there’s been a lot of changes to the whole realm of blogging that have made it truly interactive, truly social.
First of all, as you write, you develop a following of readers, who comment and link back to you. They subscribe to your RSS feed and follow what you have to say. Blogging host sites will often have directories and interlinking systems to help visitors find new blogs. Sites like Technorati.com and other blog aggregators and blog search sites serve as a focal points for finding new bloggers. Pinging services help you keep the listings of the blogs up to date. Blogging is truly interactive and social now.
- Social Bookmarking
Social Bookmarking sites allow you to share your favorite sites, articles, and information with the world. On a basic level, you create a profile which lists the sites you like best. Others can find your profile, and see the sites you recommend. As you try and promote your site, it’s possible to encourage others to post your site on their social bookmarking profile page.
One of the easiest of the bookmarking sites is Sqidoo. Here, they say that “Everyone is an expert on something”, and you create a page (called a “lens”) that focuses on your area of expertise. You include links to other sites that are of value to that audience. Other sites in this category include Digg (and microdiggs, which cover specific subjects), Del.icio.us, and StumbleUpon
Communities are simply places where people gather. The earliest versions of these were the forums. These sites are also commonly called “message boards”, and the practice and the technology was in place for these even before the world wide web was active. Email groups, easily found at Yahoogroups.com and other website-based forums and boards provide a place for people with similar interests to gather, share information, spread rumors and gossip, and generally have a great time interacting.
From the forums evolved more elaborate communities like MySpace and Facebook. These are huge general interest communities. There are also more specific communities, like Linkedin (which is more of a workplace networking site) and classmates.com (for finding old classmates and military buddies). Recently, a site called Ning has allowed individual users to create their own focused social networking sites.
Also, blending online gaming and virtual reality and social networking is a site called Second Life. It creates an entire virtual world where you can create a persona and interact with others.
- Hybrids and “Others”
Lastly, there are a few social networking systems that seem to defy categorization. The biggest of these is Twitter. This is a twisted blend of many different systems. You get friends (called “followers”) like MySpace, you post thoughts (called “tweets” or “microblogs”) like blogging, and it happens immediately, like instant messaging or chatrooms.
With these categories in mind, it’ll be much easier to discuss the individual strategies and approaches of each site or system. You’ll know what approach each one takes to the age-old task of finding friends and making connections. Because now, more than ever, people prefer to do business with their friends.
Mark is the co-director of http://seotrafficmagnet.com, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome (http://clickincome.com). Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.