2009 might technically be the Year of the Ox (at least according to the Chinese calendar), but in all actuality, it was the Year of the Social Network. Over the past 11 months, the three most popular social networks (here in the States) – Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter – have all risen to meteoric heights.
One need not turn to actual numbers (aka “stats”) to make such a statement (although I’m guessing they would mostly back up my claim). Simply turn on your TV, strike up a conversation with a friend or co-worker, or check the header/footer of your favorite news website for cute little icons. You cannot avoid running into facebook.com/this or twitter.com/that. And now with LinkedIn connecting with Twitter for status updates and the recent announcement of its new API, the three big dogs have officially all gone plaid!
When all is said and done, having a general social networking “strategy” is essential for getting the most (and avoiding the worst) out of these services. With that said, my social networking “strategy” is dead simple:
1. Facebook for friends; 2. LinkedIn for professional relationships; and 3. Twitter for personal interests.
Sure, this isn’t rocket science. Heck, I’m essentially watering down each of the sites’ mantras into their simplest form. However, generally speaking this simple 1, 2, 3 “approach” to social networking seems to be alluding the everyperson. Now, I’m not here to say that everyone with access to the Net needs to belong to each of these sites, let alone any of them. But, what I am saying, is if you do belong to one or all of these “communities” keep in mind “where” you are and “what” you are doing.
As time goes by, more and more stories seem to bubble to the surface about someone losing a job (or even a lawsuit) due to some embarrassing (or downright obscene) photographs or disparaging comments made on a social network. Thus, why not avoid these potential pitfalls by keeping things simple, stupid.
1. Facebook = friends. Facebook should be on total lock down. Keep your profile private and only share things with your friends. Using Facebook as a digital social hangout is exactly what the service was designed to do. However, if you want your name / photo / profile to appear in search engine results, make your professional LinkedIn profile (or some of it, at least) public. Let people see your successes and accomplishments, not your immature party “tricks” or social “mishaps.”
2. LinkedIn = professional. LinkedIn should serve as your professional network and digital CV. Use the site to connect with colleagues (as opposed to Facebook, so you don’t have to explain yourself every Monday morning), potential employers, and business associates. Yes, you can and should also “link” with friends, but remember where you are. Keep your status updates SFW (safe for work), and keep in mind that most potential employers will give your profile a quick peruse before bringing you in for interviews.
3. Twitter = interests. There are a lot of misperceptions about Twitter’s functionality and utility. Sure you can use it to inform the world that you just bought a bunch of ripe bananas or dropped your ice cream on the sidewalk. But there are a lot of other, more useful ways to use the service. Personally, I use twitter to keep tabs on my personal interests…from sports, to movies, to breaking news, to bargains and discounts.
Many people complain that because Twitter allows anyone and everyone to “follow” each other, it lacks the “real” social utility of say, Facebook, where you can “control” your social circles. Well, for one thing, you can set your Twitter profile to private, thereby using the service for personal (undisclosed) purposes. However, the real utility stems from the site’s “openness,” which in turn allows you to follow your particular interests (publicly, or not). By following many of my favorite things (Star Wars, tech news, various bands, and even friends, to name a few) via Twitter, I am able to keep tabs on anything and everything by signing into a single service.
By dividing up the big three into neat little (and obvious) niches, I am able to (generally) keep things in my digital world separate in the same way I try to do in real life. There is a time and place for everything. The same holds true whether you are online or in line. So please, go, enjoy all that social networks have to offer, but be mindful of where you are.