Look, I don't really think that the mySpaces and Facebooks of the world are that important for the typical small business as they stand today.
There may be very practical business reasons for some to actually use these and other, what are called social networks, for business gain, but most people that have jumped on the social network bandwagon have found themselves left with a "is this all there is" kind of feeling.
To those, I say this, the value of the current public social networks for business folks is not what you can get out of them for gain today, but what you can learn by using them for practical gain tomorrow. That's why SpacebookedIn makes sense for you now.
The Facebooks of the world are busy teaching millions and millions of business folks how social networks work, how social networking works, how shared applications can be viral and ever-present.
The real payoff in my opinion is that the wave to come after the Facebook bubble bursts is the "personalized business network."
Once everyone of your customers and prospects knows how to use what are easily replicatable social networking tools, like building profiles, sharing video and connecting based on mutual interests, your job of building your own social business network around your own very specific community of niche will get a whole lot easier.
2008 will be the year of the personalized social business network. So, if you've decided to take a pass on the whole social networking trend, I would suggest that you use this handy list to start learning to ride this bike with the training wheels on.
Ten ways to get started with Social Networking
1) Read 10 blogs - sign-up for a Bloglines account and search for and subscribe to 10 blogs about social networking - you can return daily to your page on Bloglines to find and read all the new content on your 10. Of course you can add blogs about your industry and interests here too.
2) Comment on 10 blogs - posting relevant comments to blogs you read is a very simple form of social networking. It's also a good way to get some extra visitors your site or blog.
3) Join Facebook - Join and create a profile. Find and friend some of your existing contacts using tools on Facebook. You'll be surprised how many people you already know have Facebook accounts.
Facebook has some real value for you because of the rich set of tools and large amount of active users. This is a great place to experiment with how people interact in social networks. Once you get your feet wet you may also find that Facebook is a great way to connect with business contacts you may never bump into otherwise.
4) Create a mySpace page - this service is really embraced primarily by musicians and the younger set. It also happens to have a large underbelly contingent so be warned, but it is a great tool for learning how to build a presence outside of your web site.
5) Join LinkedIn - this is a service that's been called Facebook for business. It is really about meeting and connecting with like-minded business folks. It is a great service for people looking for a job or to make connections with people who may be out of reach without an introduction.
6) Visit Ning - this is the largest custom social networking service that allows you to create your own community using a variety of tools that can be branded to match your current site.
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7) Create a Workbench profile - this one's a little self-serving as this is my new social business networking site but it's a good example of the personalized business community that's the next wave for small business.
8) Create a Twitter account - this tool is pretty silly on the surface, it allows you to type in 160 characters or less what you are doing right now. It feels like a giant waste of time but a very large and active community has grown around this kind of micro-blogging and you should understand how people are using it.
9) Create a StumbleUpon profile - This is a social network built around discovering and recommending sites that you like. Active stumblers can send a lot of traffic your way.
10) Create a Digg account - this site allows you to keep up to the minute with what's happening in the world of business. Users submit and vote on what is believed to be the most important content.
You might also consider Mixx, Squidoo and Flickr as places to find and develop niche related communities when you're ready to really get out there.
Think of mySpace, LinkedIn and Facebook as your labs - get in there and experiment for the future. then start planning your own personalized social business network.
By John Jantsch, a veteran marketing coach.
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