What is social networking?
Put simply, social networking is about connecting with other people. And there’s nothing new about that.
It’s common practice to attend a conference to meet other like-minded people in the industry, to get a job opportunity from someone you meet at a dinner party, or to find a good plumber by asking your friend who fixed his hot water system. These are all examples of connecting with someone else via your social network.
What is new, however, is that the Internet makes social networking easier than ever before.
Online social networking
Social networking websites are all the rage at the moment. In fact, the last time I looked, seven of the top 20 most popular websites in the world were devoted to social networking (Alexa, 05/03/08):
I’ve joined Facebook, and I find it easy enough to use. Just register an account and you get your own little website.
Among other things, Facebook let’s you:
- Share information about yourself (eg contact details, interests, favourite things).
- Upload photos and videos.
- Post weblinks.
- Add in fun stuff like Chuck Norris Facts and trivia quizzes.
Arguably the most powerful feature of Facebook is its ability to connect to friends and see their websites too. You can then see the friends of your friends, and so your reach grows.
You can also join “groups” and “networks”, which are more-or-less collections of related people. For example, your old high school or university might have its own network on Facebook, allowing you to catch up with long-lost buddies.
Social networking sites like Facebook obviously target the entertainment market, but that’s not to say there aren’t any potential applications in the workplace.
For example, you could use it to:
- Learn more about your colleagues than the corporate directory will tell you – What’s their personality? Are they into rock climbing too?
- Find the right person for a project or a secondment – Who can speak Mandarin? Who can train my team in DiSC?
- Inform your colleagues of news and events.
- Let people know what you’re working on right now.
The potential positives of social networking go beyond knowledge sharing.
Consider the following:
- Staff engagement – especially among the tech-savvy Gen Y’s.
- Job satisfaction – inject some fun into the work day.
- Productivity – the power of a 5-minute break.
- Collaboration – fostering a sense of community.
Wherever there are positives, there are negatives. One of the most obvious is the potential for employees to fritter away their work time on frivolous activities.
Other concerns include:
- Privacy – Who can see your personal information?
- Security – What can they do with that information?
- Appropriate behaviour – Do you really want your boss to see a photo of you drunk at your mate’s party?
- Copyright – Who own the rights over that video clip you’re uploading?
In the context of the possible pitfalls, it would be wise to approach social networking prudently.
Here are a few tips:
- Update your privacy settings to restrict who can view your information.
- Do you really need to broadcast your date of birth? At least withhold the year.
- Consider creating two separate profiles – one for your mates, one for your colleagues.
The general rule of thumb is: Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want the world to see!
There’s a wealth of information about social networking on the web.
One of my favourite resources is Social Networking in Plain English.