Social networking is indeed the new business networking. But you need to understand the different cultures to make it work. For example, my personal interest is entrepreneurs, and MySpace is for tweens. Me going to MySpace is sort of like your parents crashing your high school prom – everyone is uncomfortable and neither side has any fun.
Since I’ve been lurking around the various social networks for the last year or so, I’ve learned a few things, so I thought it would be helpful to clue you in on current networking cultures, and how they map into the business networking scene.
Every social network, including MySpace, claims to be a mecca for business people to network and sell products. That’s a necessary part of their hype to build followings and compete in the numbers game. But the reality is that each has a different style and some unwritten rules.
Here is my characterization of the social networking scene, as it relates to business networking for entrepreneurs and startups:
- Twitter. Believe it or not, this is my favorite for entrepreneurs. It is the melting pot of 75 million young and old members, business, personal, and celebrities. It’s the Internet version of the old daily newspaper, with serious news links, celebrity gossip threads, and business people of all sorts looking for information and leads. Entrepreneurs can find like-minded people here.
- Facebook. Here is the big gorilla of social networks, now exceeding 500 million members worldwide. It was built by Gen-Y, but it has now grown far beyond that. Facebook has groups like “Facebook for Business,” and millions of Fan/Business Pages, so be there or be square. Just don’t expect anything too technical.
- LinkedIn. This is the “old guard” of 60 million professionals, mostly populated by experienced executives and serious marketers. There are groups like “Applied Entrepreneurship”, where discussions get animated about the value of patents and the legality of MLMs. Gen-Y will not feel comfortable here, but it’s an important business information source for entrepreneurs.
- MySpace. As I mentioned earlier, this network is dominated by musicians and tweens. Yet they have groups for “Entrepreneurs” and “Business Networking”. I tried business discussions here, with no response. This does seem to be the forum for “get rich quick working from home,” but it’s not the place for most real entrepreneurs.
- All the rest. (Ryze, Plaxo, Orkut, Ecademy, Bebo, Friendster, etc.) There are dozens of other social/business networking sites out there, some regionalized, and some are special interest boutiques. For example, Orkut is most popular in India and Asia, while Ryze is popular in Europe.
Before you decide to build your own perfect match, combining the best of all of these, consider these sobering statistics. The four major sites above all worked for several years before they saw any revenue, and have required investments of $50 million or more to build their brand. Viral marketing costs real money, to pass that magic million member mark before your advertising revenue will even pay the rent.
My advice is to join one or two to check for value, rather than trying to do them all. It’s just like joining only one or two business groups in a new town, rather than trying to be active in all of them. You will be surprised at the number of valuable people connections, and the real leads you will get for your business. You have to give as well as take, listen as well as talk. Observe the social graces, and have fun!