With the advent of social networking sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, Internet usage has totally morphed, from a serious business medium, to a social and fun medium that still means business. Regular people now build business applications with “mashup” technology, rather than hiring programmers.
I’m a technology follower from the early days of the Internet, so a couple of years ago I decided to dive into this new world and check it out (who even heard of blogging or mashups ten years ago). I realized quickly that this new world isn’t just for the social life of Gen-Y – it is a sea change for everyone in business, especially startups.
After any earthquake event, the first thing I try to do is to step back, get the lay of the land, and derive some guidelines for getting around efficiently, while avoiding personal injury (I spent some years in California). Here are the current big three in social networking for business:
- Facebook is biggest, moving from social to business. Currently, the biggest site in numbers is Facebook with over 500 million active users. 50% of active users log on to Facebook in any given day. Their primary visitors in the past have been Gen-Y socializers, but the fastest growing segment now is business people, and discussion groups for business, like “Facebook for Business” with 56,250 members.
- LinkedIn caters to senior business professionals. The largest site traditionally targeted at business people is LinkedIn, with current numbers exceeding 80 million members. This one is a “must” for every serious business professional and executive out there today. You can join groups with your specific interests, participate in discussions or not, and highlight your business.
- Twitter for business and networking is ‘hot’. This site is for text-messaging on the Internet, with about 100 million unique visitors per month, and was first popular for social updates and gossip. Now it’s the source of business leads and networking for thousands of people, and the source of the breaking world news for everyone. You need to be there.
Obviously, there are many others that you should evaluate, based on your geographic location, type of business, and personal interests. Here is my perspective on a few of them:
- MySpace is for tweens, forget it. The third biggest site (just passed by Twitter) is MySpace, with about 95 million unique visitors per month. They have groups for business and entrepreneurs, but the culture is primarily teen and pre-teen. You will find business advertising there, but minimal business networking.
- It’s not all about numbers. There are many more social networks which have good traction and a more specialized focus in the business networking world. Examples include Ryze, Plaxo, Orkut, RedWire, and Ecademy. In general, their membership is focused by geography, industry, or culture, so the value can be excellent.
- Business networking today starts with social networks. Social networking sites are more effective and efficient than attending all those boring business cocktail mixers and conventions. I’ll even be so bold as to say that if you aren’t on any of these sites, you are way behind the curve in business networking today.
- Protocols for each site are different. There is a hierarchy and a culture to social networking sites on the Internet, just like there always has been with professional business organizations and clubs. There are so many sites, so you need to choose wisely, and learn the rules for each. Most are free, so you can do serious business networking around the world without signing up for any of the fee services.
Maybe because the cost of entry is low, I see a swarm of startups today busy with add-ons, and building new offerings. It’s a brave new world, for me an exciting challenge and fun to explore. But like every good explorer, I’m asking everyone I meet what’s around the next corner. Are you there today, and what do you predict for tomorrow?