Nurturing Your Network(s)

originally posted on Concept Hub

The most common question I hear in regards to social media is “how can a person manage all the social networks that they feel they need to be a part of?”

I have two answers. The first answer is technical. It has to do with the 2 things I call “the math equation you have to learn to go any further in Social Media; Syndication and Tagging.”

Syndication is how information is pushed or fed to another site. The most common example is subscribing to an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed which would be fed into an RSS reader such as Google Reader or Bloglines. This allows the subscriber to receive feeds from various sites into one place.

Most sites have RSS. Even Facebook status updates have an RSS feed. This means that you can pull all the information you want to keep up with into one place. Beyond that there are sites such as Friendfeed.com and Plaxo Pulse which allows you to subscribe to all your “friends” various networks in one place.

Tags are how content is organized on the web. Many sites allow you to subscribe to updates from a specific tag or category. This enables the subscriber to filter just the type of information they want to subscribe to.

However there is a lot more to consider than just how technology can assist in organizing all of your networks. Before you join a network – or ten, and try to figure out how to organize it all, you need to know why you are in those networks in the first place. Who are you trying to connect with and why?

Recently I am getting lots of questions about Twitter. More and more people are joining Twitter, but they do not know why. They are asking me why should they be on Twitter, what value will they get from it? My standard answer, not just for Twitter, but for all social media tools, is it depends on what you want to get from Twitter. Once you know what you are trying to get from a tool or network, then you will know which tool or network will be the most effective, you will know who you want to connect with, and you will know how to get value from your relationships. For example many PR people are finding Twitter a useful tool to stay in contact with the media. Many others use Twitter to stay connected with friends and family scattered throughout the country or world. Others use Twitter to stay up to date on the latest innovations and trends in their industry. But the reality is, most heavy Twitter users rely on Twitter for all of the above.

The thing about online social networks is they have become an extension to our offline social networks. If we stop and think about our offline relationships we can see how many relationships we have cross many different networks. We may play a sport with someone we work with or someone in our spiritual center. Our kids my play with the son or daughter of someone that happens to be a client. Our old high school friend may have just landed a job at a company that is a hot prospect. The reality is our offline relationships have very few boundaries, so it is a curious thing to try to impose such boundaries within our online networks.

The other fascinating challenge of online social networks is trying to decide “what to say.” Back to the Twitter example, a network that allows you 140 characters to make your point. How can a relationship be nurtured in only 140 characters, and the question asked more often, why do I care about the random bite sized thoughts and activities of others?

In our offline worlds we all have many different personas that we exhibit at various points during the day. We are all multi-diminsional and that is what makes us so captivating. The bite sized information feeds keeps the conversations going, allowing people in your network to see the various sides of your personality, to find the areas where there are common interests, and to respond, in their own bite sized information, to you. So, it is important that your online persona is just as multi-faceted and personalized as your offline persona.

But who will care? Again, this goes back to why are you there? You can be on LinkedIN and Plaxo for business, but it will still be OK to have a few friends and family connect to you there as well. You can be on Facebook re-connecting with old friends and staying connected with new friends, but it is perfectily fine to have a few clients connected to you there as well. Imagine how you can strengthen the bond you have with your clients as you learn the little details about them such as their hobbies, interests, favorite music, and so forth. Twitter is much more interesting when you are following your friends but can also keep you ahead of the curve when you need to follow trends or to know where the right place is at the right time.

Finally, no one should feel obligated to stay connected to each network all of the time. You do need to learn what you can do in each community and you do need to spend some time nurturing you networks, but once you have established your presence, you can step away if needed. Recently I confessed to a peer that I am rarely on Twitter anymore. When I need it, I know how to leverage it but right now I do not need to be in Twitter. I explained that just like we do not carry a hammer around with us all of  the time, we only have a hammer when we need to use it, we do not need to keep up with every network online.  However the trick is knowing the right tool or network to be in at the right time in the right way and with the right relationships.