Social Networking Sites: Boon to Networking or Time Waster?

Earlier in the week, I asked if you consider social networking sites (like LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace or Second Life) to be a great way to network and market products and services or a waste of time.

Several readers left comments including my sister, Misty Khan, who I referred to in the earlier post as a saavy social networker.

I have to agree with my brother that a lot of time can be wasted on social networking if you don’t use the word of the month “discipline”. In my guest blog piece on Rocky VanBrimmer’s site I talked about how I spent a lot of time late last year on social networking trying to learn the ropes and now that I have a better feel for it, my new years resolution is to use more discipline.

I totally agree that Facebook has a lot of time wasters and applications almost equivalent to chain emails which is why my main focus with Facebook is personal and I leave the heavy duty business stuff to Plaxo and LinkedIn. That being said, I do get invitations from business associates on Facebook which I accept, but only to a limited profile and I have found Facebook very useful for keeping up with what is going on in the Houston marketing community.

Twitter has been very helpful for me. I was a huge twitter skeptic, but when Erica OGrady insisted that I give it a try I took her advice and have become a believer. I’ve got an article published on on how these sites have been helpful for more information

You hear a lot of people talking about Web 2.0 and social networking sites these days. But all they are is another online communication tool. I was doing the same thing back in the days of 1200 baud modems and bulletin board systems (BBS). After that, the next big thing was CompuServe. Then AOL. Been there, done that back in my music biz days. They were all big online communities.When I first started doing serious Internet marketing, newsgroups, Yahoo groups and marketing forums were the online communities I used to network with others.

I not only built a strong network but I established a lot of credibility by answering questions and helping people out on public marketing forums as well as private forums like Terry Dean’s old Netbreakthroughs site and The Warrior Forum.

On Netbreakthroughs, we had mastermind chats every Friday with people like John Reese, Kirt Christensen, James Brausch, Nathan Andersen and a few other regulars. I learned a LOT in those sessions and made some great friends in the process.

The challenge with forums, social networking sites and, for that matter, the web itself, is  getting caught up exploring and losing track of time. It’s great to use forums to ask questions, make connections and answer other’s questions. Quite often, though, heated discussions breakout that often turn into ‘flame wars’ where disagreements elevate to name calling and worse.

It’s easy to get caught up in one of those discussions and suddenly realize you’ve wasted an hour (or hours). Even worse, some people are drawn to keep coming back to see the escalating drama. And that’s when it becomes a waste of time.

On social networking sites, there are other distractions like the many free applications.

Facebook is one of my favorite social networks. It has applications (apps for short) that let you include your blog posts on your profile page and incorporate your networks from Twitter and LinkedIn.

There are also a ton of applications that I consider time wasters. Misty’s analogy is perfect. They’re like chain letters.

These apps are designed to spread virally. For example, when a Facebook friend sends you “Good Karma”, you’re invited to return the favor. That requires you to add the Good Karma application to your profile. And you’re then encouraged to send Good Karma to all your friends by clicking a button to send Good Karma to your other Facebook friends.What is Good Karma? It’s just a little icon, a way of letting people know you’re thinking about them. A nice sentiment but there are better, more meaningful ways to express that than an sending an almost spammy message.

Some apps send virtual plants, drinks, trivia questions, puzzles and more. Most of these apps are a waste of time and others are quite useful. Altogether, there are over 7,000 apps on Facebook and about 100 new apps are being added every day.

Now a few apps provide a way to contact all your Facebook ‘friends’ at once. So you can contact them at any time without the deliverability issues that plague email. Those are obviously useful although there are limitations built-in by Facebook which restrict how many people you can mail. Pat O’Bryan’s been experimenting with this quite a bit lately and he’s built a list of 1400+ on Facebook.

If you’d like to learn more about marketing on Facebook, Justin Smith has an excellent free primer on 24 different ways to market your product on Facebook also available as an expanded downloadable ebook for a modest price.

So is Facebook (and other social networking sites) worth your time if you avoid the distractions?

Let’s look at some numbers on social network usage worldwide. According to Jeremiah Owyang, a senior analyst from Forrester Research that I ran into on Twitter, There are currently more than 60 million active Facebook users and that number is doubling every 6 months. MySpace, the largest social networking site, has over 110 million users. Jeremiah predicts Facebook will catch up with MySpace’s membership numbers later this year.

Those are just the two biggest players in social networking. Given the numbers involved, social networks are definitely something you want to pay attention to. They’re a good way to connect with potential customers, joint venture partners and more.

One question I get regularly is “How can I write an ebook when I’m not an expert at anything?” One easy way is to pick a topic you’re passionate about an interview an expert. Social networking sites can be a great way to find that expert.

Bottom Line:Social Networking sites can be a great networking marketing tool OR a way to waste valuable time. It’s up to you. The key is ‘discipline’. There’s that word again. 🙂

One last thing. The “Insider’s Secret to Marketing Your Business on the Internet” 2008 Edition from the Internet Marketing Center is now available. You can try it for 30 days for just $2.95. This was the Internet marketing course I got my start with and I’ve picked up a new copy every time they’ve done an update. It’s 900+ pages plus they’ve added video training to the package.

Even if you’re an experienced marketer, this course needs to be on your bookshelf. I’m not sure how much longer the $2.95 trial will last. Get it now by clicking here.