How Good is Your Personal Network? Are Public Sites Useful?

Boy taking an early morning ride, Tel Aviv port, Israel / © 2009

Everyone is talking about social networks and how to create buzz with Twitter or an amazing story about Facebook user. On marketing blogs there are discussions on the value of people with thousands of connections. Besides sensational stories, do personal (and professional) networks have real use? (not value) Business managers are still trying to figure out what to do with public social networking sites. After you see enough hype the question of what to do with a personal network is still open. This is specially true with organizations not yet using social media. Social networks, specially ones based on personal connections, turn out to be PERSONAL! There are variations in how people network and how they use contacts. Most people do not value their contacts or are not helpful to their contacts. Personal networks are new to most people, there are very few of us who were networkers before the sites existed who kept connections. Finally, before social networking existed on the web, networking had a stigma of sleazy salesmen, cold calls during dinner hours or junk mail. One way to change how we perceive social networks is by asking: “what can we do with them”? “Do people need large networks or ones with higher quality”? “What are high quality networks”? “Can social networks be another communication channel”? “How do we explain and demonstrate social networks”? Some people want to see real life examples, these people are not cutting edge uses. Personal social networks depend on how certain professions and communities network naturally. In some fields secrecy is important but in others cooperation is the norm. Large networks look good on paper (the screen.) They are also fun to follow. Think of these and see if you can test their usefulness:

  • How do you use them?
  • Can you get a job with one?
  • Can you find good employees with them?
  • What advice on purchasing a product can your network give you?
  • Can you get an introduction to a senior executive from people in your network?
  • What are the qualities of your network? (If you had to describe your contacts, what would you say?)

Until now these questions may have been out of reach for most social networkers. It has certainly been too much to ask from most corporate marketing managers. This state of affairs is changing. The change is in acceptance by more people on being part of a network. People realize that social networks are not just something to belong to but also something to participate. On Linked-In you can use your network for introduction to other people. On Facebook you have access to write a message to most people. On Twitter and Linked-In you can follow comments of anyone. For corporate marketers this could be useful. HP and Dell sell their overstock just by posting short messages on Twitter. At first this may not look like a network or relationship building. But if you think of all the buyers of spare parts, accessories and one-off computing equipment, you realize that here is a business community here. It may not be as sexy as Hollywood news, so what. If HP and Dell can sell laptop batteries and chargers on Twitter what can an ink cartridge company sell? Can IT consultants offer similar offers by twitting about security, backup, PC reliability, new applications and services? Can the messages move from simply a list of products and news to more helpful (or interesting) information? The possibilities are endless, the work is infinite…

Another way to think about a personal network usefulness is to test it. If you need advice or a job, send a message to a few hundred  people in your network. Maybe a few will answer and a few more will forward your message. Follow up with a message about what happened. Inform your network on the effectiveness you discovered. Try to improve your relationships. Since personal networks are still new for most people you need to give it time. You can also experiment in with different sites, text style and even connections bridging between social media sites. There are good stories about use and effectiveness of personal networks, go create one of your own (and get it up on Twitter, Bogger, Facebook or MySpace.)

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