The “Social” Part of Social Networking

- by Sam Hunter

I’ve been a member of various online social environments since 1992 (before that, depending on what you call a social network), so now that I have finally joined Twitter and Facebook, it’s interesting to see how online social worlds have changed (or not) over almost 20 years.  Second Life is more where I thought we’d be at this point, like LambdaMOO with visuals, but it is pretty difficult to get used to. Fun, though I haven’t had the time to learn it, though I had a lot of fun at Brenda Novak’s party. Maybe I’m afraid to learn it, because I could imagine getting very sucked in.

I like Twitter. Low maintenance, a nice short way to interact.  I like that Twitter is a very “uncluttered” and fun way to reach out and touch someone with 140 characters or less.  Facebook is by far more addicting, because there’s more you can do there. I also think it is more useful as a networking tool.  It’s a great place to get your name out in an environment that comes off as much  more professional than My Space (IMO) and allows you some control over who contacts you (but if you want a very restricted, sheerly professional social networking site, you want Linked In). While I’ve only recently become a member at these sites  (SL, Tw, FB, and LI) I’ve found that a lot of the basic rules of social networking haven’t changed.

We’re all busy, we need something quick, and Twitter and Facebook fit the bill for fast, easy communication, quick exposure to a lot of people. However, quality still matters more than quantity, IMO.  I’ve noticed that many people don’t really get the “social” part of the “networking.” Yes, we’re all busy and it takes time, but I think it’s the same as it always has been with any relationship, business or otherwise — what you get depends on what you give.

That doesn’t mean you should connect yourself to every person in existence. If you are a person who has trouble saying no, you’ll find yourself quickly swamped with all kinds of crap you don’t want or becoming a pervert magnet, so the first thing I think a person needs to remember is that you are in control of whom you network with, and how you do it.  If you friend everyone, you will find your social network quickly becoming unwieldy and not very useful.

However, no matter where you are, people know if you are only there for the sales pitch. “Regulars” of any online environment are like people in a neighborhood — they know when someone is coming around who’s not usually there, and it perks suspicion. I really think, like the thirty-second skip on TiVo, there is a mental state where we can just tune out anyone who’s trying to sell us something.

If you only come into a social network to advertise,  people will have that response.  I see it all the time on one of my regular boards, the authors who only come in to share when they have a book out.  So it seems like one of the biggest mistakes people make in social networks is forgetting the social element.  People come to these places every day. They contribute, they share, they become part of a community. They want to get to know you — even when you don’t have a book out. (And let’s face it, that’s maybe the time when we most need them to remember our name.)  If you never socialize on your social network, you’re missing the point.

So, no matter what social network you prefer or frequent, I think the best thing you can do is think of it as a community and treat it like one.  People come there to make a connection hopefully a lasting one because you didn’t just tell them about your latest review, you asked them how their mother was doing. You don’t have to talk to all two hundred people every day, but you should make some substantive effort to connect. Listen to people, get to know them,  what they did that day.  Share something about your day, even if just a few times a week. Your online neighbors will know you paid attention, and they will remember that when they see your book on the shelf.

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