It’s been said that each person is separated from every other person by only six degrees (or five introductions). This is a theory that Microsoft has essentially shown to be true – at least amongst online users – by studying the relationships of 180 million people around the world, through 30 billion electronic messages. This concept is referred to as Six Degrees of Separation (which has a Hollywood variation known as Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon).
We Are All Connected
What this shows is that humans are in fact social creatures and far more connected than we might sometimes realize. This is valuable for entrepreneurs because it suggests that it’s relatively easily to build a network of colleagues, clients and customers.
In the past, network building has been done in person, followed by telegrams and postal mail, then phone/ pager/ voice mail, then email and now through a variety of online “social media” options.
These electronic options are all variations of “word of mouth” – an ancient form of communication. Word of mouth has often been said to be one of the fastest means of communication in the world, and technology has made it more so. It can also be immensely valuable when it comes to entrepreneuring and business in general. Online social media is simply the newest way to network.
What is Social Media?
When it comes to the online world, we might even be much closer to each other than six degrees – possibly just three degrees apart. Technology does make it easy to connect with new people. Social media makes it even easier to connect, since that’s the whole purpose – making new online friends.
What is social media? It’s a general term for a number of different online tools that allow people to promote themselves or web content, or connect with other people. There are a number of different types of social media. Here are a few types:
- Social voting + bookmarking websites. These are used to promote online articles and other content.
- Social networks. Some examples are LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace, which each offer multiple ways to network.
- Microblogging. While not strictly a social media tool, at the least with Twitter, it has become a way of building a network of friends and “followers,” building personal and brand recognition, and general promotion. Other similar tools include Plurk and Hictu.
Why Use Social Media?
While social media use seems to be growing (judging even just by the number of people joining Twitter, and the number of clones popping up), it’s obvious that many people who work regularly online are still wondering if social media is something they want to get involved in. Or more to the point, is it worth the time?
In short, the answer is “yes.” Yes, if you want to build working relationships online. Depending on the type of service you use, social media gives you a number of benefits that are valuable for entrepreneurs (and all kinds of other web workers):
- Helps you find like minds and to network. If you’re shy by nature, social media makes it much easier to network.
- Opportunity to share information, or to find it.
- Quick-polling outlet. Have a question and want some opinions? Twitter can be an ideal way to get some feedback. However, polling is more effective if you have a large following. (My own experience is that people on Plurk and Facebook are far more responsive.)
- Hiring and job-seeking channel. Share details of working that you’re offering, or watch for opportunities from your network.
- Find a life partner. Yes, this can and does happen. When you’re so busy running your business that you don’t have much time to go out and meet new people in real life, it’s often far easier to connect online. If something develops, you can take it from there the normal way.
If you’re a creative entrepreneur (i.e., such as a musician, actor, artist, writer/ novelist), you can utilize social media. Here is an indepth article about how you can use Twitter, for building your entrepreneurial profile. Also check out Geekpreneur’s ebook for promoting yourself with Twitter.
Note that if you use more than one social media tool, explore the options for integrating them. For example, you can tweet a message on Twitter, then use a third-party service to have that message update on your Facebook Wall, your blog, and elsewhere. This is ideal if you have different people in different social networks but want to communicate to all of them.
Integrating Social Media Into Your Work Schedule
One of the common complaints about having to use social media is that it can take up a significant part of your day. That is, if you let it. Everyone has their own threshhold for how many people they can “follow” without feeling overwhelmed by the digital noise that results. There are some people who follow thousands of other people and manage just fine. A few use online tools to filter out just what they want.
The fact is, there’s far more value in social media tools when you follow more people. If you’re concerned about how doing so will affect your schedule, read Chris Garrett’s post on social media network effects.
I have a few simple rules, which vary depending on the social network:
- Choose a select few social media sites. There’s not enough time in the day for regularly using more than a few sites. While I might have accounts on over a dozen, I only use a few – each for its own purpose, and depending on what my network is using.
- Try to have a fixed schedule. I check certain services more often than others, simply because of where my currently active network is. I’ve gone from Twitter to Plurk to Twitter to Facebook.
- Keep building. My network is always growing, though it’s faster on some services than others. On Facebook, I generally only add people I have somehow interacted with in the past, or have been introduced to, or recommended to. On Twitter and Plurk, I follow strangers more readily because the infrastructure allows it.
- Ask for referrals. If you don’t know someone but someone else you know does, ask the latter for a referral. It’s done offline, so why not online?
- Add back. If you add me to your network and you are not a spammer, you’ll be added back. (However, if you’re on Twitter, Plurk or some other microblogging site and have no messages posted, I might wait a bit before adding you.) My networks are not enormous but they are big enough on some services that I cannot always “add” back right away. I usually spend a few minutes at the end of each week to do “reciprocal” adds (i.e., add back).
Social Media Mistakes to Avoid
There are number of ways that can social media can be used incorrectly. Interactive Insight Group compiled a list of links to articles that discuss serious social media mistakes.
Social media might help you to promote yourself, but just remember that the benefits come from sharing. The fact that reciprocal behavior is necessary is easy to forget, but should not be forgotten.