Friday, November 2, 2007

The Social Networking Stigma

Social networking has a sort of stigma attached to it, especially with the baby boomer and older generations. But I think if one can get past the idea of partication being "kid's play" that consumes too much time, the real benefits will eventually be realized by web surfers of all ages.

Much of the stigma, I believe, relates to people taking the "social" aspect a bit too seriously. They envision Websites like MySpace and Facebook as places where the younger generation can share way too much information about each other with way too many people. I've had this discussion with several anti-social networking co-workers and friends, who feel the entire idea of putting yourself out there for everyone to see is invasive, voyeuristic, and self-involved. I do agree that some people get carried away, offering up private details like home addresses, mobile phone numbers, and even dates they'll be going on vacation! If this information was shared with a few close and personal friends, that's a different story. But with 500+ so-called "friends" (which, judging from some lists, many kids claim to have), are you just asking for trouble? More so, what's the point?

That said, if you move past the juvenile attraction to these Websites, you'll surprisingly find a surplus of benefits for adults and even business professionals.

First, no one has the time to connect socially with each and every person in their life that they'd like to. Why not share things like recent photos, movie choices, and stories online quickly and easily, with people with whom you simply don't often get the chance to call or see? Old co-workers, friends with which everyday life has just made it impossible to remain in constant contact with? It's a great way to "catch up" while not having to spread your in-person time so thin that it's almost invisible!

Furthermore, what about friends and family that live in other countries, or even provinces? E-mail is great, but why go through the trouble of resizing and attaching hundreds of pics in an e-mail when you can reach everyone you want through one Website? This is the same justificatoin that dedicated photo sharing Websites have made for years; and it applies just as much to social networking sites with photo sharing capabilities.

From a business perspective, what other cost-effective method can you think of to reach hundreds of members in your industry all at once? Sure, there are plenty of e-blast programs, servers, and the like that can aid in maintaining a large database of names. But these cost big bucks, and require constant maintenance. With many social networking sites, you can send a note, a story, anything you wish to whomever you like with one click of a mouse, and no money out of your pocket.

When it comes to creating content that one wishes to promote, like a struggling music artists new demo recording, or an amatuer videographer's latest creation, what better way to spread the word and gain exposure for your product?

Recently, I discovered an application on Facebook that would allow me to share my book choices with friends. I can see what they're currently reading, read their book reviews, and browse through a list of recommendations. I'm always asking around for book recommendations, so having all of this information at my fingertips, from people who I know I share similar interests, is absolutely wonderful.

As for the online networking-haters, I have tried and tried to refute their arguments until I've been blue in the face. There are people who will never wish to participate, and that's perfectly fine. But for those who have been on the fence, I encourage you to try it out. As long as you're mindful about what information you share, and who you share it with, it's a neat way to both stay in touch with technology, while also, in a strange way, going back in time.

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