What is Online Social Networking?
From a conceptual standpoint, online social networking is no different than traditional networking and socializing. You meet people and get to know them by sharing information about each other. Those you like and/or share interests with become part of your "network." The marketing magic kicks in when those in your network start talking about you. Your reputation spreads by word-of-mouth.
The Internet and related technology have taken networking to the next level, expanding each individual’s reach and exposure through online marketing. Where traditionally people gather in person to network -- at the same time and place as others -- members of online networking groups are not limited by time or geography. Each group member can interact 24/7 from any location worldwide. Consequently, online networking techniques are very different from in-person networking.
How To Interact Through Social Networking
Ways to interact are numerous. The first order of business is to decide what your marketing goals are with respect to social networking. While "finding new friends" is a sufficient personal reason for social networking, business marketing goals need to be more specific. Are you an individual looking for a job or freelance work? Do you want to gain exposure for your product, band or company? Are you looking for potential employees or contractors? Do you want to get prospects interested enough to visit your Website or contact you? Your goals will dictate what you put on your profile and social networking home page as well as who you look for the become part of your network.
After you’ve decided on your purpose for online networking, choose which social networking Website(s) you will participate in.
Where to Network Online
You can find a comprehensive list of social networking site at Wikipedia here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_social_networking_websites. I am familiar with those listed below. They will give you an idea of the range of opportunities you will find at social networking Websites:
Yahoo! 360 (360.yahoo.com): Yahoo!'s social networking site is in beta as of this writing. The unique feature here is your Yahoo! 360 space is cross-promoted with other Yahoo! products, such as with your reviews on Yahoo! Local and your Yahoo! Groups. Like many social networking sites, you can also host a blog on the server.
MySpace (myspace.com): This is the mother of social networking sites. Originally dominated by teens, there are reports of the "graying of myspace" as older people and businesses are also networking on the site. It may be worth your while to spend some time there to see if your target customers hang out there.
LinkedIn (linkedin.com): LinkedIn is excellent for professional, career-related online marketing because it focuses exclusively on business and professional networking. You will find interfaces to connect with classmates or colleagues (both past and present); find service providers or clients; post or find a job; and ask or answer business-related questions.
Gather (gather.com): This network incorporates user publications (in the form of articles) and a points reward system into the usual social networking activities.
Each social networking Website has it’s own "personality" and a different mix of people to interact with. Before signing up, go to each site and explore a bit -- search on keywords related to your goals and interests, check out the different groups, the activity level, etc. This will help you determine if a site will be beneficial to you. Once you find a site that interests you, establish your presence by signing up and filling in the questions for your profile and site home page. Once that is done, you are ready to interact.
Whom To Interact With
The people you want to associate with (i.e. make "friends" or be "connected" to) will depend largely on your goals. There are several types of people you will want to consider contacting. Each can help you in different ways, so consider looking for more than one type of "target friend:"
Customers and Consumers: People who will benefit from what you do, consume or buy your products or services, and rave about you to their friends
Others Within Your Industry: People with whom you can network, share resources and cross-promote with.
Media and Publishers: People who work for or can influence publications you would like to be mentioned in (e-zines, newspapers, Websites, etc).
Consultants: People who may want to hire or purchase products from you.
Event, Company or Organization representatives: People who operate business and associations that support your industry.
How To Find Friends
A few people will find you based on your profile, but you will want to actively seek out quality friends. You can start to find friends by joining groups related to your expertise, that have members who match your target friend profile or interest you in general. You can also approach individuals and ask them to become a friend and/or part of your network.
Next month in part 2 I will detail some more specific networking and marketing techniques. Until then, explore your social networking sites, get comfortable with the features and find a few friends.
Bobette Kyle draws upon 15+ years of Marketing/Executive experience, online marketing experience, and a marketing MBA as inspiration for her writing. Bobette is proprietor at the Web Site Marketing Plan Network (http://www.WebSiteMarketingPlan.com). She is also author of the marketing plan and Web promotion book "How Much For Just the Spider? Strategic Website Marketing For Small Budget Business." You can search all articles on the network through the marketing directory by going here: http://www.websitemarketingplan.com/directory