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RISMEDIA, March 14, 2009-In January, I had the opportunity to speak at a conference with a group of real estate broker/owners on the topic of social networking. The questions from the audience were like a trip down memory lane of the fear and hesitancy I experienced when I myself entered into the SN world.

When information placed online can be disseminated at the speed of light, a little caution is a good thing, but paralyzing fear is quite the opposite. This is my story from dread to discovery, so far.

The First Step

How many times could I hear “Facebook,” “blogging,” “social networking” combined with “You’ve got to do this” before I jumped on board? Well, apparently a lot. Finally curiosity got the better of me and I hesitantly signed up for Facebook about a year and a half ago.

I put up my corporate headshot and business information on my Profile Pages and waited. Nothing happened.

The First Contacts/Friends

I figured out that if I wanted something to happen, I was required to take additional action. And so off went my first Friend Request to my closest real-life GenY friend.

Immediately, I was ridiculed for my overly corporate profile picture and my desire to use the medium for business purposes. My personal motivation for the exercise was set, but the point was filed away as an important insight.

Suddenly, I started receiving Friend Requests. They were all from the circle of people I knew through my GenY friend. Strange, I thought, until I realized that my original connection was visible to this group and that Facebook actually had shared with them the connection.

The First Mistakes

In addition to a profile, there are different Applications you can use. One popular one is known as SuperPoke. I have and have been Poked, bought a scotch, and had a restraining order placed on me-all in the name of good fun. Through other Applications, I’ve been given more cowbell, been nominated as the nicest person on the Web and the list goes on from there.

Then, I received an invitation to play Oregon Trail and here is where the first mistake happened. Not knowing what the game was, I sent a response to thank the person for the lovely invitation, but that regretfully I would be unable to participate. Who knew that this typical and proper social act would earn me the “Cute” label? (Sarcastic Version)

Lesson 1: You don’t need to reply to every invitation you receive on a SN site.

The second error came when Friend Requests began arriving from people I didn’t know. I started to accept them, not wanting to earn the “Rude” label as well but was now shrewd enough to question my GenY friend on the proper protocol.

Lesson 2: “Friend Collecting” although popular in some circles is not actually cool.

It’s not rude to reject someone in this setting. They will not receive notification of the rejection so don’t feel bad about it. Online as well as offline, the value of your network comes not from the sheer number in it, but the quality of it.

ASIDE: Social networking sites make your connections visible and can allow those in your network to see information about the others. This may seem scary, but it’s something you can control. Use the available security settings to define what information about you is available for sharing and with whom it will be shared.

A SN Monster is Born

Now that I was starting to gain an understanding of social networks, the feeding frenzy began. There are so many SN sites out there and I was excited to participate in each and every one. I joined every site that was recommended to me and I have profiles on maybe 20 of them.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember what they are and it has become necessary to Google myself to find them.

SN Profiles are like virtual business cards. Between these profiles, blogging and press, I own the first 5 pages of Google for my name. I can’t help but be pleased with the digital footprint established and don’t suggest skipping this phase, but must admit to failure in being an active participant with my networks on all of these sites.

The balloon of ecstasy deflated and reality set in. I needed to focus.

Determined, Deliberate, Dedicated – Delightful, Delicious, Delovely. I understand the reason why you’re overwhelmed, because so was I. How do I do all of this and do it well?

The next phase of SN has already begun and it involves some pretty creative solutions to this issue. Many programs are popping up that help to aggregate activities and communications across multiple SN sites. I especially love Hellotxt which helps me to update my Status posting across most of my online locations and Xobni which combines SN information from Facebook and Linked In with Outlook. Unfortunately, the perfect solution has yet to present itself so the problem remains.

My solution was and is to focus my activities on the sites where my networks were largest and to build upon them. I kept up to a lesser degree in places where my networks overlapped the least and let the rest exist as the virtual business cards they were so good at being.

Finding My SN Voice

Up till this point, most of my online activities were limited to accepting and requesting friends/connections and the occasional Status Update. Social networks are an odd combination of personal friends, family and business contacts. What do I communicate to them? Does anyone really want to know everything I’m doing all the time?

I began investigating this question by posting various Status Updates on a more regular basis. They ranged from mundane facts like “sitting on my sofa, working” on a Saturday afternoon to exactly what I was working on. The responses were as varied as the posts.

First, clearly I am not the only person I know who dedicates at least part of their weekend to working. Second, several of the people in my network found value in the work I was doing and posted comments requesting more information. The term “Social” has less to do with what I communicate than how I communicate it.

I discovered that through SN, I could sympathize, entertain, and provide valuable information as well as gain it. These are all things I do offline as well, but SN enable me to do it on a much greater scale.

During the January presentation, I was asked how much time I spend on social networking. My answer from a business perspective-No matter how much time I spend connecting and communicating with my ‘sphere of influence’ through any medium, it’s never enough.

Sharon E. Michnay, CRP, GMS is Director of Corporate Business Development for Halstead Property.

For more information, search ‘Sharon Michnay’ on Halstead.com, Facebook, Linked In, Plaxo, Twitter or search on Google for more options.

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