After joining my latest business networking site I started thinking about all the ones I already belonged to. This includes MySpace, LinkedIn, Digg, JumpUp, Facebook, FastPitch!, Del.icio.us and MyBlogLog. My local sites include GoDekalb and Southern Fried Tech (yes I live down south in Atlanta). I'm not even going to talk about Soundclick, Imeem and Podseeq.com which are sites that I could say are business related for me....technically speaking...for podcasting purposes. And I'm just getting warmed up here as I could fill a book up with social networks I belong to. I even use a site called Profilactic that allows you to access all my popular social network accounts from one location.
Now I really do use some of these networks in order to find folks that may be able to use my services, as well as to collaborate and swap experiences with those who work in related fields. Many people are using these networks for sharing information, but most business types are looking for jobs or customers. According to Intuit's latest installment of their Future of Small Business report, online networks are only going to grow in importance and become a key tool for expanding business opportunities. Even now studies show as many as 65% of adult Internet users belong to at least one social networking site, and thanks to sites like Ning people are able to roll their own social networking sites for free.
But the question we all need to ask ourselves is how much online networking is too much? Many folks have gone overboard with it under the guise of marketing. These sites can help build relationships but it's just as important not to get "lost in the sauce" and confuse socializing with business development. In fact one network-weary guy created an application called Notworking, which measures how much time you spend on social networking sites as well as how much money you could have earned with that time.
So you really have to be careful and chose a few networks to participate in, those that allow you to interact with the kind of people that could possibly help you or your business in some way. LinkedIn is the most popular business networking site. As I'm typing this I just received an invite to join someone's LinkedIn network. Typically this would not be a newsworthy event, but over the last few weeks I've received far fewer LinkedIn invitations compared to the number of invites coming from Facebook.
What's appealing about Facebook is how it fosters more knowledge sharing and collaboration with those in your network. I know I've learned more about the people in my Facebook network in a few weeks than I have in several months of LinkedIn networking. You can add applications to your profile that allows you to interact more informally with your network, which is a big difference from the much more formal interactions taking place on LinkedIn. For example, I loaded a book rack application and listed some of the books I've read. Others in my network also use this application, allowing me to see a big list of books with reviews, which eventually led me to buy a book I hadn't heard of before, but many had listed as a must read. And business application providers like Yahoo! Finance, Zoho and even LinkedIn are building application widgets to work on Facebook to get more face time with the growing number of business users. One Facebook app I really like is from Box.net that allows me to put my podcast files up for folks to check out.
As great as this stuff is, it's pretty easy to get lost in all of this "networking". Now I'm not only getting added to people's Facebook network, I'm getting invited to the Facebook groups they're creating. And seeing mood updates...and getting emails from Facebook (and FastPitch and LinkedIn, etc.) whenever something happens in my network. Just when I'm trying to take back control of my inbox and manage the flow of information coming to me with RSS.
So do yourself a favor and make sure you go into the social networking scene with honest, realistic expectations. As important as these network will be to us now and in the future, try to stay on the right side of the line.