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Isn’t It Time You Joined a Social Network? Part II

How to Get Started

Part 2 of a 3 part feature on social networks

By Barry Myers

In Part 1, we looked at the dramatic rise in popularity of social networks in general and the more recent rise of the niche social network built around a more specific shared interest or objective.

In this second article, we’ll take a closer look at what some of these networks have to offer and make some recommendations on what to look for before you invest valuable time and effort in building your new online circle of friends!
Finding a match

The first thing you’ll want to do?  Stop and think about what it is you are looking for in a social network.

Is it an interest-based network that focuses on something you’re passionate about like books (Shelfari), Cars (Motorpia), shopping (Kaboodle), or movies (Flixster)? Or maybe it’s a social cause that’s dear to your heart like global warming (Change.org).

Maybe you’re looking for a network for a specific purpose, like staying in touch with family members (KinCafe or Famiva), professional networking (LinkedIn or Plaxo), or learning a new language (LiveMocha).

Or perhaps you’re just looking for other people in similar life situations like moms (ClubMom or Minti) or seniors (Eons, TeeDeeBee) to share stories, challenges, and give and receive advice.

The list is almost endless.  Check out over 350 networking sites provided by the folks at Mashable, a social networking blogging site.

Take a good look around

When you have found a site that attracts your interest, take a good look around.  If you’re allowed to, surf through a few member profiles. Try to get a feel for the personality of the site to see whether it reflects your own tastes and values. Remember – you’re probably going to be investing considerable time into this venture and you don’t want that to be wasted effort.  

Is it easy to sign up and navigate? Does it give you the tools you need to solve problems like staying in touch with family or sharing photos and videos?  Is there a lot of intrusive advertising that will eventually become distracting or annoying?

A great way to learn more about a site is to visit the “About Us” section. Not only will you learn about the company behind the site but you’ll probably also find an overview of the functions provided and, if it’s a well-funded site, maybe even a video tutorial.

It’s nearly impossible to catalog all the different functions social networking sites provide but you can expect all the networks to include some combination of the basic networking functions: the ability to create a profile; connect with other members; form groups; join forums; read and publish blogs; and some form of media-sharing. Each site will differ in what tools they emphasize, the level of personalization permitted, and certainly in the critical ease-of-use category.

Make sure you’re not wasting your time

If the site seems to be a match with your personality, the next thing you need to do is make sure it’s an active network. This step is critical; on today’s Web, a stale, out-of-date site can continue to look new and shiny for a very long time.

Look closely at several profiles. Are members’ blogs being updated regularly? Are the forums up-to-date with recent comments? Check out recent press releases and other news from the company – both on the social networking site and on Google or other news sites.

Lastly, do a blog search on the name of the social network. In Google, just type the name into the search box and, at the top of the page, click on more, scroll down and click on blogs.

Read the fine print

Finally, get familiar with the policies regarding privacy and posting content. Are they clear about protecting your privacy and not allowing distasteful content? If these policies aren’t readily available, that could be a red flag.

Most sites will publish standard text on privacy protection and content but you should also look for indications that they take their own rules seriously. One plus point with niche social networks – enhanced privacy flows naturally from being part of a smaller interest group. People are much less likely to go looking for personal information about you on a network for book lovers like Shelfari than they are on Facebook.

Remember though, niche networks are not defined by their size. According to the research firm Compete, four of the top ten most popular social networks are niche networks catering to a specific interest, objective, or trait. You can view the rankings here.

In our final article on social networks, we’ll take a closer look at some of the great new networks that have sprung up for families, moms, baby boomers, and, yes, even toddlers!

Barry Myers has been helping consumer technology brands communicate with consumers for over 12 years. Most recently he was a co-founder of DigitalLife, the country’s biggest consumer-facing technology conference and exposition. He’s currently hard at a work on his own niche social network. Barry lives in Manhattan with his wife, two-year old son, and twin cats Al and G.

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