Social networking: just do it

facebook-linkedinA friend recently cooked me dinner in return for a few hours of web strategy. She’s already doing a great job of online networking but she’s under the impression I know loads of arcane secrets about online marketing and social networking, which is flattering but not entirely true (although the dinner was FANTASTIC!).

This morning, my dad said he wanted to try social networking. He asked me why I didn’t have any blog posts on how to use Facebook and Twitter.

I will tell you what I told both of them: there are no secrets, just do it. Dive in, try things out, and make connections. You’ll learn as you go.

When I first got on LinkedIn, hardly anyone I knew had signed up. Now, a few years later, I have over 300 connections, which gives me a searchable network of millions. I haven’t used it to grow my business in any deliberate way, but it’s a tremendous resource with all kinds of potential.

Twitter was an experiment – I didn’t “get it” so I tried it. In my case I use it as a mini-blog but I see friends using it as a way to keep in touch throughout the day, or they offer on-the-spot social commentary, or maybe they just keep up to see where the party is. I hate to admit it, but it’s got a certain appeal. And the fact that I can tweet from my phone…it’s kinda cool. But it’s hard to explain why. I just like it. And so whenever I think about it, I tweet.

On a personal level, Facebook seemed useless to me for well over a year, probably because of my age – late 30s. A year later, now that I’m about to turn 40, many of my friends are online. The newsfeed is starting to get interesting as I read all the posts and find out what my everyone’s doing. I like the apps, too – you can share books and movies, play games (albeit slowly, one turn at a time!), or simply reach out and poke someone.

So for all of you social networking butterflies out there, don’t be afraid. Sign up, log in, and link up. Friend someone today and see what happens.

Twitter = online pointillism

Georges SeuratI finally get it, what makes Twitter so popular. Here I was afraid I was just too old. Whew, I feel much cooler now.

Never heard of it? No worries, you too can be cool and in-the-know.

Twitter is a site where you post what you are doing. Right now. In 140 characters or less (about the length of this paragraph).

You can pick people to “follow” so you see what they are doing. You may have people follow you as well. You can tweet from your phone, to make updates from the road. You can even post your tweets on Facebook and other social networking sites, to keep your entire online life organized all in one place for your friends’ convenience.

At first glance, this may seem like some sort of bizarre ADD-inspired site, for those who need an excuse to change focus every few minutes. Individual comments have little to no meaning.

But actually, if all your friends are on it – which is true for the younger generation – they can see, at a glance, who’s busy and who might be free to do something fun. No need to call friends one by one.

That’s not the only use, however. Tweet for business, and suddenly your staff have insight into how you spend your day and what’s important to you. Tweet about specific hobbies or your career, and others who share that interest can see what a day in your life is like.

Twitter has even been used for online games, like Color Wars 2008. Consider it a social experiment, not a game with a traditional start and finish. That one, I admit, I still don’t completely understand.

Georges Seurat zoomI’m looking at Twitter now as a micro-blog, where the comments make sense in the context of a bigger picture, whether it’s someone’s hobbies, their life, their perspective. Twitter reminds me of a trend I learned back in art history, called pointillism. It was made famous by Georges-Pierre Seurat’s painting shown above. At right is a close-up where you can see that it’s made up of colored dots. The dots, individually, make no sense, but when viewed collectively, as part of a larger picture, it makes up a gorgeous work of art.

Suddenly Twitter, viewed as part of a larger picture, makes a lot more sense to me.
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iPhone 2.0 – it’s all about the apps

iPhone appsEveryone’s talking – and blogging – about the latest iPhone. As one of the original owners, there on iDay 2007, how can I resist?

You may be surprised to hear I’m not buying a new phone. GPS would be nice, but the geo-tracking already built in is enough to get me un-lost when needed. The faster Internet? Well, I admit that’s tempting, and ultimately I may upgrade. But a plastic case? Really?

Actually, the best part of iPhone 2.0 isn’t the new phone, it’s the software. Fortunately all iPhone owners get it, not just the newbies. There are plenty of new features, from subtle to amazing, but the single most revolutionary change is open developer access. Programmers are now writing iPhone applications as fast as they can type.

Download new iPhone apps directly to your phone via the iTunes store. Many are free, others cost. Look for a rapidly expanding selection as more and more programmers get involved in iPhone development.

The most useful app I’ve found is the new iPhone version of Jott, a free reminder service I wrote about a while back. It records a voice message but transcribes it to a written note. Perfect for jotting down your to-do list in the car or between meetings.

Many apps tie into social networking, so you can tweet to Twitter throughout the day, locate Facebook friends who are close using GPS, or instantly geo-tag and post new photos to Flickr.

But my very favorite so far is midomi. Have you ever heard a great song and wanted to know the artist? Hold up your iPhone to the radio so midomi can listen. In seconds, you’ll have your answer. Can’t remember a favorite song but you can hum the tune? Sing directly into your phone. Seriously. I’m so fascinated I’ve been singing to my dogs for the past 20 minutes to see if I could stump it. So far it’s gotten every single one right. I’ll be unbeatable next time we play “name that tune” on trivia night!

One last thing…for all you Apple-bashing Microsoft devotees, you can sync with Exchange. Wirelessly. With push technology that rivals the BlackBerry. The iPhone is now officially a player in the business cellular market.

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Expand your network (your social network, that is)

Social networksSocial networking has taken off–are you in the loop? LinkedIn is hands-down the biggest site for business networking, but many other sites can help you connect. No matter what your interest, there’s a perfect place to share it online.

In this post, we’ll look at the variety of social networking sites available. In a subsequent post, we’ll explore ways these can be used to help you and your business.

  • MySpace was not the first social networking site, but it was one of the first to hit the mainstream and really take off. It remains popular today, with millions of members.
  • Facebook was limited to high school and college students until September 2006. Since then it has usurped MySpace and become *the* place to be online. New applications sprout up each day, making it a broad platform for connections.
  • Plaxo is taking the Facebook approach to the business world in competition to LinkedIn. They’ve long been known for their online address book that requests automatic updates by email, but it remains to be seen how popular its social networking side will be.
  • Flickr is social networking via photos. Post your favorites or post them all, then tag them, label them, categorize them, and share them.
  • YouTube takes Flickr to the next level with video instead of photography. Record anything you want, post it and tag it, then wait for the comments to come in.
  • Twitter allows you to share exactly what you are doing at any point in time. Consider it a real-time community status board.
  • Digg, Del.ico.us, and StumbleUpon are not traditional social networking sites, but they use each the power of community to accomplish the same thing: link you to recommendations made by others with similar interests. By bringing like interests together, everyone gets more of what they love most.

These sites mingle the real world with the virtual world almost seamlessly. While it’s easy to sign up on any of these sites, you’ll have to return regularly to make strong connections. Real-world friends and colleagues require your time and attention; your virtual connections do as well.