Social Networks: What are They Good For?

Social NetworksDoes social media make you feel like you’re shouting in crowded room, yet no one seems to be paying attention? Perhaps it’s not you, but instead the medium.

About a year ago I wanted to better understand (anecdotally) how people reacted to various social mediums. I posted the same message on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, which serve as my trifecta of social media. I said, “If you see this, please RT, @ reply, like, or do anything that would indicate you’ve seen this.” The results were quite interesting. Out of about 6,000 followers on Twitter, I received 16 actions (RTs, DMs, @ Replies) all from people who had either listed me or who followed less than 600 people.  Facebook netted me 30 likes and six comments from 500 Friends. LinkedIn clocked in at a paltry three reactions from 750 connections.

Based on this result it might surprise you that by far the most productive and valuable social network for me is LinkedIn. But why? From my experiment above it appears that no one is paying attention. Not necessarily. To understand the numbers and mediums you must first understand the underlying psychology.

Facebook is my homecoming party.

It’s all personal. My Facebook friends are exactly that, friends…and family. They’re the people I trust to know that I’m out of town. They care about what I’m eating for dinner (probably not in all actuality) or laugh with me at a strange occurrence. They help me celebrate success and lift me up when I’ve fallen. They care personally about me. When I ask them to take action (like Joplin relief efforts), they react as friends. They jump in and help. So it should come as no surprise that their engagement level is higher. If it wasn’t I’d wonder why I was friends with them. I keep business almost completely out of this circle of influence. No lead pimping. No startup articles. No business blathering. Just friends, being friends.

Twitter is my new acquaintance acquisition tool.

It’s also my psychological research tool. I follow a lot of people and actually track very few people. Twitter is about sharing with strangers and cyber stalking people to try and understand what makes them tick. I know almost nothing about 99.8% of the people I follow other than the reason why I decided to follow them. Perhaps they said something pithy. Perhaps they had an interesting bio or wrote an article I found valuable. Regardless, I follow them as the start of the relationship. If it leads to more, it usually goes beyond Twitter to LinkedIn, then for a very small number, it goes to Facebook. I find Twitter amazingly valuable for this purpose. It helps me introduce myself. It drives blog traffic like crazy. It gives me a tremendous amount of information on people who I might deal with. Twitter is my conference cocktail party. Snag a business card, have an interesting conversation or just kick back an enjoy yourself with no implied commitment.

Then there’s my favorite, LinkedIn.

I’ll just come out and profess my love for it. I check it at least twice daily. I expend by far the most effort on it. I have received by far the most financial gain from it. How could I not? When used appropriately, it’s a dealmaker’s paradise. It’s like a self-updating Rolodex, but instead of a static piece of paper, each metaphorical card pops up and informs me of each person’s happenings on a daily basis. It shows me who’s moved positions, what people find interesting, or who they’re connected to. It’s absolutely brilliant for understanding individual context.

For those who don’t know, LinkedIn is the world’s best research assistant. Want to find all PR firms within a sixty mile radius of Cincinnati? Check. Want to find the owners of those firms? Check. Want to limit the search by company size? How about by the proximity of connection? What about narrowing it down to only those who graduated from your college? Check. Check. Check. The genius is not only the ability to search for very specific criteria, but also the ability to understand the relationship between those people and your own network.

Remember, social is not just about one-on-one sharing. If information is power, ask yourself how you’re utilizing the incredible amount of searchable data available through social networks. The information is easy to find. I check it on my iPad, you can check it on your Android Phones or even your PC, but you need to ask important questions about this information. What can each network offer and what are you trying to accomplish?

Just because you think people aren’t listening doesn’t mean the network doesn’t have value.

Brent Beshore is a serial entrepreneur who owns AdVentures (#28 on 2011 Inc. 500), blogs on entrepreneurship, and is involved in a number of startups including a digital talent agency.


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