Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Is Social Networking Overrated?

Is it just me, or is Twitter everywhere these days? I wasn't familiar with this social networking tool at all until I read this marvelous post on Inklit comparing Twitter to, Of course I was thrilled to come out looking good in comparison to a popular social networking tool, but I didn't know much about Twitter at all until that point... and then all of a sudden Twitter exploded all over my screen.

Over at Brazen Careerist, they've completely redone their design to incorporate Twitter posts. Penelope Trunk is completely obsessed with Twitter. There's a Twitter writing contest at Copyblogger. And that only scrapes the surface of all the social networking sites out there that people believe will bring them fame, notoriety, and business. Meanwhile Lori Widmer is doubting the value of all these social networks, and frankly so am I. Here's why.

Because social networking takes time. It takes time to build a profile. It takes time to connect to other people. It takes time to build a presence big enough to draw significant traffic. It takes time to be active in these communities--often a must if you want to get noticed. Why spend all that time on something that offers a very shaky ROI, when you could spend it on proven marketing strategies to clients who buy? And if you're not doing it to boost your business, why are you doing it? What's the point of all that time spent?

Because fame on a social networking site is like fame everywhere else. Many people half-believe that social networking sites will bring them some sort of notice. And some people actually do get that--look at Tila Tequila, a girl who got a Playboy spread, an MTV show, and a record deal from her activities on MySpace. But if you think you personally are going to wind up in Hugh Hefner's mansion--or on TV--just because you made a MySpace profile, well...I've got a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in. Maybe it does happen, but to one in a million.

Because many people on these sites aren't looking to buy. An interesting point John makes on Inklit is that people on Twitter are looking to be heard--not necessarily to hear others. And in my experience on social networking sites, I've found this to be true: most people there are interested in themselves. They're interested in making themselves heard. In connecting to their friends. In getting attention. In expanding their business networks. Most people are not interested in you, and most aren't looking to hire you--I would say the chances of that are probably best on a site geared towards professionals, like LinkedIn, but even so I've been on LinkedIn for a while and I can't say I've gotten business from it.

Because established markets don't go trolling for writers on social networking sites. Maybe those $5-an-article people do. But high-paying, established companies and markets don't--they don't need to. Writers come to them. If you really want to make progress with your career, maybe you should put yourself in front of them through marketing materials, direct contact, and so on instead of expecting them to come to you on a social networking site.

If you're into social networking sites to have fun and connect with friends, that's one thing--my problem with them comes in when people see them as a way to get business. I'm on FaceBook and LinkedIn. I originally joined FaceBook thinking I'd find clients there, but so many of my friends from college are on FaceBook that my profile has degenerated into something that's mostly social now. As for LinkedIn, I've connected to a small number of previous clients there, but I can't say it's given me a discernible boost in business. What's worked for me is doing a good job for my clients, getting referrals, and getting in touch directly with companies I want to work for. And this blog. I believe blogging and a great website can do wonders for your business--but social networks are generally not much more than a time sink.


Anonymous said...

This seems to be "bash Twitter and all Social Media" week. Are writers the canaries in the coal mine? Has Twitter officially jumped the shark?

I joined Twitter to get in on Copyblogger's short story contest, so I can't really comment on using it. But I do have my email on 24/7 and my IM. I tried cutting out the noise the other day to focus on a project, and had moderate success.

I think the danger of being in constant contact is that it makes it harder to focus on the task at hand. Things like Twitter, it seems to me, don't provide that much of a boost in *anything*. Are those 140 characters so important that they need to be instantly sent *now* instead of 30 seconds from now in an email?

Bottom line: people enjoy it. No matter how much business you will or won't drum up with it, if people are having fun with it, then that's all it really takes to keep it going.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the link love, toots. :))

The key here is the word "social" in networking. I think people using social sites to advance their careers are going through Indo-China to get to New Jersey. These are "social" in nature by their very names. Time put into these sites, in my humble opinion, will be time not spent on the career, but rather on reconnecting with chums. The latter is fine, but not if you're really after the former.

Anonymous said...

Good piece...esp about time value!

Kap13 said...

Its an interesting topic. Maybe these networks need to evolve into something bigger to be anything revolutionary.

James Morgan said...

Sweet blog!
Thought you might want to put a contact me widget on your blog. So that your other readers and I could contact you.
Contact Me Widget

Anonymous said...

Jennifer I wrote a post for Problogger saying basically the same thing (I don't know if it will be published there; I submitted it on a whim).

I agree with you 100%, especially on the best ways to find clients. My blog, my website and ACTIVELY marketing TO clients has brought in more business than I can handle ... that doesn't leave me time to "twitter" my thumbs on a social networking site (pun fully intended).


Anonymous said...

Great points, Jennifer.

I've resisted the urge to join Twitter myself, primarily because the ROI just doesn't seem to be there.

Essentially, Twitter seems more like Facebook and Myspace--cool socializing tools and fun to use, but mostly just time wasters when it comes to drumming up actual paying business.

Viqi French said...

Well said! It's a lot of work to even effectively connect with a few communities. Forget about creating a presence on every latest network.

I never completed my LinkedIn profile; have only clicked once to see what a "Twit" looked like. ;0


Sarah-Jane Lehoux said...

Great article. As a newbie to the world of social networking, it's very tempting to sign up for every community possible, but I can see how it would be more valuable to focus on a select few.