The concept of social networking has come a long way since the initial introduction of the chat rooms or instant messaging. The premise is still the same, to link people with common interests, so they can share ideas, activities, events, and information.
Joining a social network for personal interest was the natural progression from the chat rooms and instant messaging. More doors were opened, to more people, and there is more breach of privacy, vulnerability, and danger. These networks usually offer the opportunity to set up a profile, and in fact, urge the members to do just that, and in many cases, reward them for doing so. Account holders have the option during set up to establish accessibility and privacy controls. However, there appears to be little or no hesitation about posting personal and confidential information in profiles, in the postings made for public view, or in giving open access to sometimes very personal information.
During set up you are generally asked if you want to import your email address book, to start building your friends or contacts. Naively you may say yes and activate the domino or viral effect on the information in your address book. For example, you have ten people in your address book and you meet three people on the social network. These three new friends jointly have 350 contacts and those 350 jointly have 1,250 contacts and those 1,250 jointly have 3,500 contacts. The viral affect works in both directions. Each of the 3,500 has access to any public account connected to you or anyone else in your network. If you do not use any of the privacy features offered, you are unleashing an unlimited viral effect.
There may be a legal issue here to ponder. Your address book includes friends, clients, and family. You authorize access to those names and addresses and all other information that may be stored in your address book, on the internet through your social network. Did you have the authority to release their identity and private information? Did you violate their right to privacy?
Users post photographs and videos showing personal activities and events for the public to view. These documents give voice to personal lifestyles and information that would not ordinarily be known. Social networks are used as a place to vent whatever thought or concept enters the mind, including Hi, I just woke up. Or Well, I just walked the dog. Users voice personal financial and medical information, where they went partying the night before, and work information.
Data that pertains to where you work or live, where you are going, and when you are not going to be home, should never get posted for public view. With a private account you are able to share information exclusively with friends and family. I have seen people display a full personal profile, including where they live and then post when they were going on vacation, where, and for how long. They are then surprised when they return home to find they have been robbed.
Business social networking is all together different. A company will post specific company information because they are establishing the account with the intent of buying and selling, marketing and advertising, and reaching new resources and information. Does business social networking pay off?
Citibank Small Business did a survey and found that 75 percent of small business executives in the US reported they had not found social networking sites useful for generating business leads or expanding business. Citibank also found that nearly 90 percent of the 500 companies surveyed said they had not used social networking sites for information or business advice.
This new resource is recognized by companies, but many have not figured out how to make it work within their business practices and cost effectively. Companies are concerned about the time consuming and exhausting efforts necessary to maintain visibility. While companies see referrals and reviews for products and services they find no way of monitoring the effectiveness of their participating in these social networking blogs or forums. As long as there are no measurable means to determine success, companies will remain hesitant to provide the manpower and related costs necessary to participate.
Companies are also concerned about the epidemic growth of employee person use of social networking while at work. Where personal use is already having a negative impact on businesses, companies are sharing a growing interest in the impact open participation will cause. Without perimeters for monitoring social networking success and usage, the costs impact anticipated are unrealistic.
It is inevitable that companies will find social networks even more important than owning their own website but companies will not blindly jump on the bandwagon without some feeling of a return on investment. The internet is the way of the future and the companies that are involved are the companies that will be more likely to prosper.
In reality, we are motivated to join organizations and social networks because we want to contribute to our community, want to socialize, want free information, and generally, most importantly, we want a place to advertise or sell our service or product. Unfortunately, the majority of the other people who joined also joined for the same reasons. What you end up with are a lot of people selling, and very few buying.
Social networking can result in a large overhead expense with no or little return on your investment. You also may become ineffective and inefficient. Serious time and effort must be given to establishing a business website or to joining social networks.
Yes, we are always looking for ways to improve, new products, new services, how to fix something, new ideas and concepts to earn money or to cut cost. We want to learn from others mistakes and successes, without revealing too much about our own business. The last thing in the world we want to do is hire public relations or marketing firms, or any other consultants. We want free advice. Before you know it, you are wrapped up in viral email marketing schemes and scams.
Social networking can be successful if the objective is to establish brand identity. Brand identity or imaging is where you invest the time and effort to join networks and repeated post under your company name so people will recognize the company name and service or product. It isnt something that happens overnight and may take years. Your product or service does not have to be particularly unique, but the advertisement has to be memorable and the service or product your company, has to be more easily found on the internet than your competitor.
With brand imaging, you develop fan equity which will sustain a company that has a product purchased and used daily by the multitudes. Of course, the product has to be worthy or the fan equity disappears very quickly. Fan equity is another way of saying customer service. Without excellent customer service to support your product or service, you have no business.
Social networking usually leads to email marketing. Do not fall for the misrepresentation that this is the new marketing of the day or future. Business social networking is relatively new and so is email marketing. The CanSpam Act is very specific, and can be costly, at $16,000 pre commercial email sent in violation of the Act. When considering this option for your marketing be sure you are reaching your correct audience, and that it will achieve your objective. In truth, not everyone is using social network or email marketing, and you may find that only sales and marketing companies are telling you it is successful.
Schools are beginning to incorporate social networks into their daily activities as a means of convenient communication. Homework assignments are posted, discussed, and submitted. Private communication is available between parents, teachers, students, and faculty. However, there is a growing concern over the epidemic use by students of social networking while on school premises or in the classrooms.
Social networks have gained the attention not only of the individual user and businesses, but also of law enforcement agencies and courts. User identity profiles, photographs posted, and postings have been used to apprehend criminals, as evidence in trials, and in forensic profiling.
We also have social networks that relate to specific issues, needs and categories, such as classmates, recruitment, military units and organizations, non-profit organizations, dating, and medical conditions or scientific research. Some of these categories will have open enrollment while others may collect a fee or have qualification requirements to be met.
One of the latest phenomena is the intermingling of social networks. Resources from one network can be shared or imported into another, such as address books, links, and log-in information.
Additional downsides to internet social networking are that we are losing our ability to communicate face-to-face with people and it is used without regard to others, cyber etiquette, or good manners.
We must also be aware there is a perceived threat to your privacy because of the use of and access to your identity, and the rights to that information. In opening an account you may be giving permission to the network to harvest or sell your identity and contacts. This is how viral spamming begins.
Social networking puts you at risk of identity theft, sexual exploitation, stalking, cyber bullying, and also puts your computer at terrific risk of viruses, Trojans, spyware, malware, and worms. Inappropriate behavior, spam, and abuse should be reported to the social network administrators. Where appropriate, report circumstances to the federal and state authorities. These authorities really do have their hands full, but they will prosecute offenders.
So, back to the original questions, are they good or bad, and are they safe. Yes, they are good. Are social networks beneficial? I think so, but only when used with discretion and purpose. However, if you do not set them up correctly and use them wisely, they will turn bad very quickly, take over your life, and be unsafe.