Someone asked me “The Benefits of On-line Social Networking ?”

Seeing Facebook, Twitter, Bebo, Orkut, Flickr simply as marketing devices misses the point on many different levels. Web2.0 is less about networking and more about online communities. There is tremendous potential in this, but also many pitfalls.

The only way to get traction from the WOM potential is to the spend time not only getting familiar with the causal lexicon and unspoken rules, but to achieve a certain amount of ‘immersion’ through the experience.

You need to make a commitment to reach out to other members of the community, to get involved, establish your online ‘street cred’, gain trust and make a few real friends through this process. The last thing you want is to be seen as a social network ‘spammer’ – using the access to many different people who share interests to send un-wanted spam. I have had to drop a number of people off my ‘approved’ list due to inappropriate zeal in sending out unwanted invites to groups after I made a personal appeal to remove me from their list.

Of course, there is never enough time in the day to do this across the spectrum of available social websites. Establishing accounts with Facebook, Linked In, Beebo, Flickr is something that over time will be potentially useful, but the key is to find one site that fits your interests and passions, and to focus on getting immersed in the experience, put yourself out there, develop some real connections with people you that share your interests and passions.

Tricky stuff, and not for the light of heart. An unspoken bargain is struck between you and the users in the community that participation is a two way street. In order for you to get connected to the movers and the shakers, you have to give to get back in return.

Transparency is a huge issue, due to the speed in which Google and the other search engines index content these days. Always a good idea to put down twitter after you have had one too many. If you like to engage in late night rants, I would look into creating some parallel accounts that do not have you true name or business name. You would be amazed at how fast twitter gets indexed by Google in certain keyword spaces.

What I find really exciting is the fact that the web is finally living up to it’s potential with these new online applications, Open Source, WiFi and mobile. People are engaging each other in new and unique ways, with simple, powerful tools and hi speed access. People are out there, fact checking and calling big media out on the table when the the spin doctors and political propaganda hide the truth, or engage in outright lying.

Advertising and Marketing is beginning to go through a paradigm shift due to the power social networks and user based content. This last year it has become clear that dismissing the complaints and concerns of the customer is done at the peril of the company’s bottom line.

The cool part about this phenomena is that is it happening now, and due to the hesitation and risks involved, many of the Fortune 500 – 1000 companies don’t seem to be able to wrap their minds around the strange notion of actually listening to their customer base (for a variety of different reasons). This presents a great opportunity for smaller companies and individuals to be able to establish themselves through the use of blogs, blog networks and social networks and create new relationships based on transparency and trust.

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