I recently wrote an article in Eagle Magazine on social media and the 3 major networks. This covers the basics of social media and the reason behind the phenomenon. I have reprinted the article below. Enjoy:
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn… Oh My: Social networking isn’t limited to coffee shops and cocktail parties anymore
There is an analogy I often use in my seminars to describe how social media has not only shaped the evolution of the Internet, it has changed how we interact as a society. When you go to any coffee shop in town, you will find small tribes of people gathered around tables and comfortable couches, favorite beverage in hand, simply chatting about everything from relationships to what was on TV last night. These bands of socialites have simply moved their discussion from a face to face interaction to what can only be described as the “Virtual Coffee Shop”.
The web has become simply one giant coffee shop, with groups huddled around computer monitors discussing everything from green living to cancer to cars. As these conversation technologies evolve and new tools emerge, the need to discuss important topics in our lives any time of the day or night becomes even more compelling. Social media technologies are just an extension of our daily interactions with those in our lives.
Take Twitter for instance. Three years ago this 10 million strong (and growing) social network was merely a gleam in some programmer’s eye. Today it is the fastest growing social network on the planet. According to Mashable.com, the social web’s source for news, Twitter grew 1382% in year-over-year growth as of February 20091. The media is replete with mentions of Twitter. Jimmy Fallon uses Twitter to solicit questions for guests on his new late night talk show. Shaquille O’neal uses Twitter to interact with fans and give away tickets to games. Major brands are searching the “Twitterverse” to monitor conversations about their brands in order to contribute to the discussion.
What is Twitter you ask? It was built on the notion that anyone could describe what he or she was doing at any moment in 140 characters or less. In practice, it has become a valuable tool for building deeper relationships through much more frequent contact and for aggregating content from many other sources on the web. Twitter can turn you into a mini “rock star” by creating your very own media channel to which anyone can subscribe.
Another network experiencing exponential growth right now is Facebook. A mere 5 years old, Facebook currently has 200 million users and is growing at a pace of approximately 1 million users per week. To put it into perspective, if Facebook were a country, it would be the 6th largest in the word based on population. When my 59 year old mother communicates with me regularly on Facebook, you know it has leapt from the land of geeks and bleeding-heart teens to mainstream.
While Twitter is like being in a busy coffee shop trying to hear your friend over many different conversations going on at once, Facebook takes a more segmented approach to online conversation. First of all, your home page is a news feed that shows only the changes that have been made to the profiles of those in your network. Second of all, you can join groups, become a fan of your favorite business or artist, and even play interactive games with those in your network. It can be both a time waster as well as a valuable business tool. In fact, most people will tell you it has even become one giant high school reunion for them.
Twitter and Facebook serve as that unique intersection between your social and professional lives. They can be valuable business tools or simply a way to stay in touch with family and friends. LinkedIn, however, is all business. In its simplest form, LinkedIn is an interactive resume and Rolodex. In practice, however, it is the online version of the business cocktail party, without the constraints of time or space. You can make introductions, provide a recommendation for those you have worked with in the past, and even ask for help from your network on a pressing question you may have. If you are a professional, own a business, or work in an field you would consider a “career” you should be on LinkedIn.
While the networks may come and go (MySpace is on the decline, for instance) one thing is true. Social media has brought the world together. No longer are we limited by time or space, but we can stay in constant contact with those that matter most to us. If you haven’t yet made the plunge, there is no better time to jump on the social media bandwagon. There is plenty of company.