spam

LinkedIn is not where we go to share family pics, Vine videos, or snopes-worthy rumors (unless someone has a Vine of Marissa Mayer replacing the whole Yahoo! senior executive team with members of her family, and definitive proof that nothing was doctored in post). LinkedIn is a business network, where we go to further our professional aspirations and relations. With this in mind, our actions on LinkedIn will inescapably reflect directly upon our brand proposition, both professional and personal.

So what’s with all the sales spam I keep getting from so many LinkedIn members? Do the senders not realize the damage they are doing to their brand value, not to mention that time they are wasting at my end?

I am not a fan of unsolicited emails from previously unknown parties. I admit to sending out one email missive at the end of each year to all my clients and business contacts, wishing them the best of the season, and good fortune in the year to come, and that’s about as far as I am prepared to go down the twisted path of Spamdom. My reasoning is not founded in knowledge borne of complex market studies, but rather the result of the icky feeling I get whenever I receive spam, and my own desire never to have my own brand associated with such negative feeling.

An unfortunately unsurprising number of LinkedIn accounts are fake accounts, created to front spam sales services that suffocate bona fide business members’ inboxes with a glut of irritating sales pitches, repeated ad nauseam by a rotating gallery of stock photo “bot babes”. The fact that these accounts almost always pretend to be attractive 20-something women is already insulting enough to the many enormously talented women on LinkedIn. I sincerely hope someone more qualified than I takes the time to examine and comment on why certain elements of our society still believe that predominantly young, seemingly vacuous, albeit attractive, women are the perfect sales tool. For my part, I’d like to restrict myself (for now) to the simple request that LinkedIn administrators take more proactive measures to pre-qualify the “real person” credentials of new registering members.

Fake accounts represent, however, only one side of the counterfeit currency that is Spam InMails. There remain a robust number of InMails that are sent by living breathing account reps who should know better.

I receive about 20 seemingly Spam InMails per day. Communications from existing contacts are addressed first, followed by correspondence from recognized or respected indirect contacts (2nd or 3rd degree contacts via individuals who I consider valid pre-qualifiers by dint of their own selective personality. I have a few contacts who accept LinkedIn connection requests from any and all accounts, in their ongoing quest to hit the mythical jackpot of “most LinkedIn contacts ever”. Their contacts and others with whom I’m not previously acquainted fall into the “potential spammer” bucket.) Any InMail that begins with “I represent…” invariably ends up trashed without further thought, which leaves about 4 -6 daily InMails that may or may not have value to me. These I have to read, evaluate, and act upon – which means that as much as 10 minutes of my workday is spent managing LinkedIn Spam. That may not seem like much, but that represents more than an hour per week of repetitive clutter. I dutifully mark Spam InMails as spam, in the hope that LinkedIn staff are processing this feedback conscientiously. However, the health of communications within the LinkedIn community depends most on its members’ willingness to agree upon the nature of the community itself. If the majority of us see it as a virtual flea market where we can hawk our wares aggressively to as many members as possible, the value of this community will decline precipitously. We are all eager to make beneficial connections that will provide lasting professional value. I’ve yet to meet a LinkedIn member who joined in the hope that they would be sold “web development, expertise in Obj C (iPhone Apps), HTML/CSS, Ruby on Rails, PHP, Java, NodeJS, and Database development, all at affordable prices!”. Every individual or brand that thinks such solicitations are providing valuable ROI to their brand is doing themselves and our community a disservice.

I am eager to learn from and share knowledge with other professionals, and I have benefited greatly from LinkedIn in the past. The benefits are becoming obfuscated by the burdens, and there may come a point where the mathematical equation tips irreversibly from benefit to cost.

As more and more sales spam inundates our inboxes, the responsible parties will be stocking the flames of a Pyrrhic victory. I and other members of the LinkedIn community will likely discontinue our memberships, and seek other platforms and channels on which to conduct our professional business. LinkedIn will have lost revenue, and unsubscribing members will have lost a previously valuable business ecosystem. More importantly, the spammers will have lost their targets. Nobody will have won.

Dear Spammers: If you are trying to secure new customers on LinkedIn, do so by demonstrating your value through knowledge sharing, not unsolicited sales pitches. Write a post about the relative merits of various database development toolsets; join a group and share your insights on the challenges faced by mobile application developers; give a little of your time and expertise. The returns may not be as immediate as the few bucks you might secure from the one in 10,000,000 who is willing to respond to your spam InMail, but they will be far longer lasting and exponentially lucrative.

LinkedIn is a community garden, and the output will be directly correlative to the seeds we sow, and how we care for the ground upon which we work.

Voltaire’s famous phrase “il faut cultiver notre jardin” does not translate into a justification for selfish greed, but rather recommends a life of horticultural quietism. I personally don’t subscribe to the “calm acceptance of things as they are without attempts to resist or change them”, but we would do well to focus less on exploiting situations to our personal advantage, consequences be damned. There exists a middle ground, where we may actively influence our collective good fortunes, and I still believe platforms such as LinkedIn offer such an opportunity. It falls to the combined efforts of LinkedIn feature developers, designers, and members to protect and enrich that opportunity. Failing that, the selfish opportunists will destroy both their own and this platform’s value.

I was recently messaging with a colleague, discussing the finer points of republishing content posted on a Facebook Page, when we got on to the topic of crediting sources. The conversation got me thinking, and following are some of those thoughts, for what they’re worth:

  • Sharing content is cool, giving credit for the source is even cooler.
  • Illegally sharing hundreds of films or music tracks online is not cool, no matter how you cut it. Everyone uploads or downloads a song here or there, or surreptitiously catches an episode they missed of their favorite series, but wholesale mass theft of content is just that – stealing.
  • Trolling is for idiots.
  • Flame wars are for fools.
  • Cat pictures should be limited to Furcadia.
  • If you’re redistributing a Twitter post that someone else made, it’s called a “retweet”, and there’s a button for that. It is not called a “cut and paste and pretend I thought of it”.
  • Don’t tweet, post, or otherwise publish content just to be the first, coolest, or any other attention-grabbing reason. For most of us, High School ended a long time ago. Try limiting yourself to publishing content which you SINCERELY believe will Inspire, Challenge, Educate, or Empower (my version of Tony Hsieh’s very compelling ICEE philosophy for tweeting).
  • Empire Avenue, Klout, and Kred are Casual Games. They have no other functional value (with the exception of advertising). Don’t pretend otherwise. This may change one day, but for now it’s all just about as useful as milking a virtual cow. Enjoy the diversion, but don’t make any more out of it than that.
  • Your follow count – be it on Twitter, Facebook, Quora, or elsewhere – has no metric value other than to tell you how many people clicked “Follow” or “Like”. Relatively few of them actively read your content, so suck it up and get on with your REAL life.
  • Once in a while, something you post will publish at *just* the right moment, and the content will resonate at *just* the right frequency with the community in to which it is launched, sufficient to go viral (for whatever short period and distance it does so). Take a moment to enjoy the moment, and then get on with your REAL life.

Social media is engaging, immersive, sometimes even addictive. However, it is counterproductive when it becomes anything more than a utility. If you manage online communities for a living (or as an important aspect of your identity), then social engagement (a term I coined in 2005) will understandably hold a central place in your daily life. Everyone else, look upon it as you would the telephone or television: a game-changing innovation that serves to bring the world closer together, and facilitate communication, education, information, and commerce. Used in moderation, it represents an extraordinary leap forward in personal expression, global connectivity, and cultural rapprochement. Used to excess, it erodes the intellect, dumbs down the conversation, and reduces us to yabbering consumers of junk, and little more.

Great tools and platforms have been (and continue to be) developed. Let’s use them with a modicum of wisdom and restraint. The promise they hold is immense, but only if we use them responsibly.

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It’s been almost 2 months since I last posted anything here (I have no interest in blogging for the sake of blogging, and I’m sure you have no interest in reading self-important daily ruminations on the state of social media, society, or Steve Jobs (RIP)).

So, beginning today, I will be compiling – in keeping with my commitment to publish only when I have something worth publishing – recaps of a few of the various things I’ve discovered and shared during the previous month, be it via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, or whatever other social brand made sense in the moment. I won’t be recapping ALL my postings and discoveries (saints preserve us!), but only those that I think still merit review, one month later. As noted above, I’ll be calling this regular entry “In Case You Missed It…”, and I welcome any feedback or input, as always.  So, without further ado, here is the first installment of this regular publication for your enjoyment, information, education, and perhaps even inspiration! (this first posting will cover a little more than the past month, just to get us all caught up):

Fundraising in the New Economy

As many of my readers know, I have been dedicating a big chunk the past couple of years to supporting a small variety of Not-for-Profit Organizations, helping them to strengthen their brand and financial positions during this economic downturn. Many NPOs are still wasting a lot of time pursuing legacy funding channels that no longer deliver the returns they used to bring, at the cost of other revenue generation opportunities. Crowd-sourced and network funding channels abound now, including ProFounder, Kickstarter, Razoo and others. NPOs need to have a dedicated New Funding Director, well-versed in emerging channels (from text-based through Social, and beyond). In July, Mashable published an interesting article offering some tips for NPO mobile campaigning. It was a little simplistic, but a great way to help NPOs start thinking along the right lines.

21st Century Pop

Later that month, I came across a very compelling site called thesixtyone, where “new artists make music and listeners decide what’s good”. Why it took me so long to check this out, I’ll never know, but I’m glad to see it still going strong, and now there’s another offering, exclusively for the iPad, called Aweditorium, which is similar, yet just different enough to make it worth looking in to. While Spotify, Grooveshark, Pandora, Mog, and Last.fm are hands down the best purveyors of mainstream music over the Net, it’s great to see intuitive, crowdsourced music experience such as thesixtyone and Aweditorium. Kudos to Reid Hoffman and Joi Ito for supporting such truly grassroots musical adventures as thesixtyone, and I’m eager to see what sort of UX the iCloud offers, to mitigate the lousy experience that is currently iTunes.

Gee, Plus or Minus

Also in July, I began using Google+, and I must say I am still struggling to adopt it as a preferred social network. I can see some potential, but it is so specifically reliant on the input of users that one wonders whether “we” are enough to ensure ongoing and continually expanding usefulness, beyond the fraternity of early adopters. This network may end up becoming little more than a glorified techie BBS, which is not a bad thing, just not perhaps what everyone had initially expected or hoped for. I yearn to be proven wrong, though, and see this evolve into a deeply enriching experience for a vast cross section of society, sufficiently differentiated from Facebook that it moves beyond being an “either/or” proposition. Other niche social networks are growing strongly, meanwhile, including photography site 500px (an alternative the increasingly messy deviantart).

Incremental Change

I’ve been waging a more than 2-year battle to have a major residential street in Burbank calmed sufficiently to allow for bicycle lanes, a center turn lane, upgraded signalization, and safe pedestrian crossing experiences. Just a few weeks ago, with the help of many friends and professionals, the battle was won, and we now move on to the next street, in this war (at least, that’s what it often feels like!) to make urban living safer, more manageable, and more sustainable.  My efforts were quiet and diplomatic (for the most part!), compared to the impressive actions of people like Vilnius Mayor A.Zuokas and Ed Begley Jr. While we may not all have the discipline, vision, & commitment of Mr. Begley, wouldn’t it be nice if we each moved an inch further in the right direction? Standing still on the issue of sustainable living isn’t going to improve air quality, landfill overflows, urban heat island effect, & the host of other challenges bearing down on us. Whoever said “ignorance is bliss” was a fool (Hello, Thomas Gray). As for the tank stunt: Is it all staged? Perhaps. Does it momentarily fulfill the fondest wish of many a pedestrian, bus driver, and bicyclist around the world? Definitely. The streets of our urban areas are supposed to be for ALL forms of transportation, not just cars. Does your city have the legislative tank commanders necessary to ensure you are able to get around a cleaner city, however you wish, and safely? Think about it, and maybe one or two more of us can act upon it…

In the meantime, while we fight to make our cities more inclusive, many among us are worrying about how our privacy is becoming compromised online. Facebook is certainly not to blame, if you are stupid enough to post drunken/naked/awkward pictures of yourself on your profile, or otherwise upload sensitive data. That’s all on you, bubba! However, your phone number, real estate records, social content, name, age, and so much more are easy to find on the web, regardless of your Facebook activity, thanks to a host of sites you may never have heard of. Clearing the data can be a bit of a headache, but finding all those sites has recently become a whole lot easier: Unlistmy.info is a free service that helps you identify those sites and remove your personal data from their records.

Speaking of records, the results from the 2010 Census came online last month, and they’re interesting to wander around, during your coffee/tea break… (some intriguing questions arise, such as: if all designated races experienced population decline in Los Angeles County, how did the overall population in that California county INCREASE by nearly 300,000 people?). Explore the 2010 Census here (courtesy of CNN).

Keeping The Fire Alight

More recently, Lots of new techie toys have been coming out: iPhone 4S, Amazon Fire Tablet, Kindle Touch, Samsung Galaxy S2 for T-Mobile and others, a couple of new Android tablets, some more Windows phones…Despite high unemployment, and a gasping economy, our almost unconscious desire for the newest consumer tech bauble remains as healthy as ever. At some point we will suddenly wake up to the fact that all these devices are nothing more than toys or tools, and as such need to be either mightily entertaining or extremely useful…and, in both cases, firmly reliable.

Let that day come sooner, rather than later.

The speculation surrounding the Amazon tablet release was perhaps the most feverish, with claims being made that the “Fire” was a potential “iPad Killer”. Despite press reports supporting this dramatic contention, nothing could be further from the truth, IMHO. As I said in one of my Quora answers last month, the new device from Amazon certainly opens up the market, with a price point ($199) that will bring fiscal fence-sitters into the arena. However, the feature-set on the Kindle Fire make it more like a juiced-up iPod Touch than an iPad. The Kindle Fire has no camera, no microphone, and no 3G connectivity. That said, it has two things that the iPad does not have: Amazon Silk and a vast content library (remember, Apps are not content, per se, they are applications!). The iPad will continue (for now) to dominate the upper end of the tablet market, with its dominant app collection and solid device performance. Meanwhile, the Kindle Fire represents a price and feature challenge to the rest of the market (Android and Windows8, essentially). To go out on a limb, just for the heck of it, I’m going to predict that that Kindle Fire does very well in the short term, while the new Kindle e-readers do astonishingly well, once they come out in November. Amazon may well take 2nd place in tablet market share, but not for long, as I have to believe the release of Microsoft’s Windows 8 tablet OS will force the Android Tablets and applications communities to mature at an accelerated pace. Amazon will take 1st place in mobile content delivery, and will keep it, so long as they maintain focus on their existing core capabilities.

I don’t think Mr. Jeff Bezos and Co. are looking to secure early advantage in the tablet race. Their objective is loftier. Amazon is in the multiplatform content delivery market for the long haul, as evidenced by their Kindle ecosystem. While the HTCs, Dells, Samsungs, RIMs, and Motorolas of the world (sorry, HP, but a jailbroken tablet can no longer be considered viable competition) fight it out in their respectively scrappy fashions, Amazon would do well to stick to its proven methodologies: manage and enhance a world-leading library of diverse content; produce competitively priced, robust, yet simple-featured devices; tying it all together with a superior (if still prone to outage) cloud infrastructure,

Market analysts have claimed that everyone who was going to buy a Kindle has already bought one, but the new touchscreen functionality and very affordable price point now position the Kindle e-reader as the only game worth playing in town. The Nook is in serious trouble (trapped between the Kindle Touch and Fire, yet costing almost as much as both combined). Watch for massive sales of this new line of Kindle e-readers, assuming the interface is solid, and the Whispernet deal (free wireless content delivery) stays equally secure.

The Kindle Fire represents a widening of the market for tablet users, not so much a direct challenge to the iPad (although it may convince Apple to lower the price on their current model, and keep it on the market when the next iPad iteration comes out, all depending on whether there is sufficient differentiation between their current model and the next release. Most signs point to this not being the case).

The new line of Kindle e-readers positions Amazon to garner such a massive and insurmountable lead over all other book distributors, digital or otherwise, that the Big 5 publishers are going to have to come back to the table soon, with their tails between their legs. Although Apple’s iBook may have better UI, the Kindle App gives readers a degree of mobility and flexibility that is unmatched.

Amazon is pursuing software and hardware innovations in full support of their core competencies, and the company will prosper mightily as a result. If AWS can reduce outages, and their Cloud infrastructure is able to handle the load that might come to bear when 50 million (or more) tablets and e-readers and other devices call for content at the same time, then Amazon will be the new leading entertainment studio of the 21st century: in charge and in control of distribution more content to more people, in more places, on more devices, than any other entity.

That brings me to the end of September, and I haven’t even mentioned my Twitter postings (tweets). So I’ll just post a few from the beginning of July below, to give you a taste of what you can usually find there! In the meantime, I look forward to next month’s recap and, if you prefer to connect in a more timely fashion, I encourage you to follow my regular (almost daily) tweets on Twitter, and/or my weekly short posts on Facebook.

A few Twitter tweets of note for early July:

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My friend, Mike Brown recently posted a short piece on his own blog, entitled “Who is creating social media content in your organization?”, exploring where the departmental responsibility for social media (or “social engagement”, as I prefer to call it) lies within an organization. I added a comment to the posting, which drew some very flattering responses via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and email – so I thought I’d post my comments here below (as much to remember what the heck it was I wrote, as to keep the conversation going!):

Perhaps above and beyond the obvious impact Social Media is having, in terms of offering new opportunities for brand evangelists to introduce and moderate their platforms in existing or new constituencies; for product and solution marketing teams to try and launch “campaigns” via new channels; for corporate representatives – be they CRM, legal, or otherwise – to try and cautiously bring their brand and offering connection closer to the end-user, in response to an increasing demand by consumers and clients to participate in the valuation of offerings, further up the value chain….above and beyond these and other immediately evident opportunities, benefits, or enticements (presented across the still primordial social engagement landscape), there is growing one even larger opportunity that has been only tangentially addressed here, and deserves to be directly examined:

Instead of attempting to qualify which existing department should or does own or lead social engagement activities, within traditional corporate infrastructures and silos, the real question of deepest worth may be “has the advent of social engagement, greater organizational transparency, transversal responsibility for failure and success alike, and deeper demands from every part of the process (including consumers) for collaboration in development, innovation, productization, distribution, and iteration (breathe here) created not just an opportunity, but a demand, for organizations to review their org. charts, and functional infrastructures, in order to best respond to and manage new models and ecosystems in customer and client relationships, product sales and management, and other aspects of B2B and B2C business?”.

Perhaps the answer lies not in shoving social media activities into one or the other pre-existing pigeon hole, but instead taking this opportunity to stir the pot more than just a little, and take some time to divest ourselves of 1950’s functional structures..?

This is the moment to loosen our grip on the past and present, and see this undeniably disruptive practice of social engagement as a chance to reinvigorate and possibly reinvent the way we manage innovation, human resources, market penetration, customer service, and so much more. Let’s not get carried away with a presently rather shallow tide, but let’s recognize that the tides have nevertheless shifted, and the currents are moving in compelling new ways which will certainly change the landscape. Where your ship lands depends on how well you learn to navigate these currents and tides, and how efficiently you reassign your crew.

My fundamental suggestion is that corporate and organizational models are ripe for transformation, reflecting massive evolutions in internal and external communications, operations, personnel management and education, marketing, and customer relations – to name but a few areas that are both deeply impacted by and – in turn – heavily influence hierarchies and processes within organizations. The way social engagement permeates an infrastructure could prove invaluable in effecting valuable transformation: watch the practice as it flows through the organization: something akin to a corporate blue dye (BDT) and modified barium swallow (MBS) test! Should Marketing and Communications continue to be lumped together (“MarCom”)? Is the skills set of Marketing best maximized as a Sales support function, or is there a more strategic opportunity therein? Should Communications really be a satellite support function, activated only whenever a Business Unit or other department determines there exists a need to “push” information outward, or is more potential just itching to manifest itself? The communal nature of social engagement gives organizations the priceless opportunity to move beyond legacy charts, developed to manage the 19th Century industrial revolution. Several revolutions have taken place since then, and this latest one – effectively disrupting how we connect, communicate, and transact with one another – presents an opening that should not be overlooked.

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It’s been quite a while now that “gurus”, “pundits” and “experts” have been bandying about the term “Social Media”, proffering it as the catch-all for market penetration and business success, without honestly having any sort of traditionally measurable proof of merit in hand.

There’s no question that Social Media is an exciting activity sector, promising diverse new and enhanced points of connection with customers and clients. Quite how those connections will translate in to the type of metrics favored by traditionalist CFOs and shareholders is still under debate.

While the aforementioned experts continue to find ways to align this new engagement paradigm with traditional Cost/Benefit analysis modeling, I suggest that such ROI measurement is perhaps something of a fool’s errand, (1) because marketing has never been measurable in the manner that so many companies historically demand, and (2) because the commitment required to successfully maximize the potential of today’s emerging platforms and tools for customer engagement is far less measurable than ad or PR campaigns have been, in the past.

Social Media is more than a marketing campaign ecosystem, wherein one might deploy emerging product offerings or test possible brand evolutions. In fact, I would love to get rid of the term “Social Media” altogether, because it brings with it an unfortunate sense of frivolity that has been compounded by the visible (yet relatively small) part of social media, known as Social Networking (domain of Facebook, MySpace, Youtube, et al).

From a business perspective, the notion of “Social Media” stinks too much of an ongoing teenage chat session, with no goal in site.  Many social media gurus will argue that this is quite so, and crucial to a business’s success in the 21st Century. While I strongly concur that engaging in a more open and collaborative dialog with consumers and users is an imperative in the contemporary marketplace, I also feel strongly that there exist few businesses that can afford to invest time and money in open-ended discussions with their prospects, “just because”. In the end, a business has something to sell, and its activities should be focused on this goal, as well as the post-sales services necessary to ensure the new customer becomes a de facto account executive for the brand. Smart marketing is a strategic endeavor, managed at the C-Suite level, and designed to position a company’s offering(s) as impactfully as possible, with the ambitious objective of turning salespeople into customer relations advocates.

By all means let’s call it “Social Media” when we’re reconnecting with old High School friends and sharing photos with cousins across the world.  With respect to B2B and B2C connections, let’s expand the term, and call it “Social Engagement”. That is, after all what it’s about, isn’t it? The more measurable activity is whether and how we might engage with and activate our end-user community to become partners in the enhancement and advancement of our brand (and its varied offerings).  In some instances this will be sociable (Facebook Pages, Twitter feeds, comments threads, etc), in others more buzz marketing oriented (viral branded content, competitions, internal communications, polls, etc), and in yet others wholly functional and tactical (SEO, brand monitoring, bookmarking, corporate HR, medical resource sharing, media asset management, and so on).

There’s a lot we can do with the tools, platforms, and channels available to our businesses today, but we need to think of our Social Engagement strategy as more than “getting on Facebook” or “starting a blog”. It is a commitment – both online and offline – to connecting with our users, employees, and clients in a more dynamic and potentially rewarding manner than ever before. It is a far more organic and open-ended engagement than we are used to (and perhaps comfortable with). However, it still merits careful strategic forethought and measured management.

To begin, despite that fact that she uses the term I have renounced above(!), I am thrilled to introduce our latest contributor, Pam Dyer, a marketing consultant from Seattle. Her article below offers up a dozen arguments in favor of Social Engagement in the online space. I know that you and I could together come up with an additional 12 reasons, specific to your particular situation, so and I therefore challenge you to make your own list of 8 more, just for the fun of it (and DON’T limit yourself to online opportunities). With 20 compelling reasons to activate your “Media Engagement” endeavors, you will soon be leveraging a previously confusing array of ever changing networks and tool sets, in service to your brand and, more importantly, the long term health of your business.

Social media is fast becoming an essential part part the marketing mix for brands. Companies are increasingly using social tools to monitor conversations about their products, competitors, and industry, and engaging with their customers to build strong relationships. According Forrester Research’s most recent Interactive Marketing Forecast, social media marketing will grow at an annual rate of 34% -– faster than any other form of online marketing and double the average growth rate of 17% for all online mediums:

And new research from Access Markets International Partners shows that almost 70% of small and medium businesses actively use social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to promote themselves. But simply posting what your CEO had for lunch isn’t going to help much with your branding efforts — it’s important to strategically use social media tools to increase exposure and reach your target audience.

Here are 12 compelling reasons to use social media to help grow your business:

1. Own your brand’s social presence: If you don’t create official channels online, it’s only a matter of time before your fans do it for you and create their own profiles and communities around your brand. It’s important to claim your brand name across all the major social media platforms. Here are two sites that will help you do this:

  • KnowEm: KnowEm has the highest number of sites (over 350) available for checking username availability. Simply by entering your desired username, you’ll be able to find out instantly if it’s still available. KnowEm also offers paid plans, from just signing up and registering you at 150 sites, to a full-featured plan which also fills in all profile details, complete with pictures, at 100 to 300 different networking sites.
  • namechk: Covering 72 major social networking sites, namechk is simple, fast, and easy to use. If your desired username or vanity URL is still available, you simply click through each one to claim it. If your brand isn’t consistent across the Web, namechk can help you by determining which usernames are still available on a number of the most popular sites.

2. Look like you “get it”: Your target audience is becoming more shrewd about leveraging social media sites as an integral part of their daily lives. If you want to appear relevant and in-step with the latest advances in technology, your potential customers will want to see you on these sites as well. If you don’t have a presence, you appear as if you’re not very savvy.

3. Brand recognition: You need to go where your customers are, and they are increasingly spending a great deal of time on social networking sites. Using social media enables your company to reach a huge number of potential customers. Getting your name out there is incredibly important — studies suggest that people need to hear a company’s name at least seven times before they trust and respect it enough to become a customer.

4. Take your message directly to consumers: Social media tools enable you to directly engage consumers in conversation. Be sure to build trust by adding value to the community consistently over time.

5. Increase your search engine rankings: Social media profiles (especially those on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn) frequently rank highly with major search engines. Creating keyword-rich profiles around your brand name can help generate traffic for your both your social-networking sites and your company’s Web site.

6. SEO benefits: Many social media bookmarking sites use NOFOLLOW tags that limit the outbound link value of posts made on their sites, but there are still many leading sites that allow DOFOLLOW tags — including Friendfeed, Digg, and Mixx. You can also benefit from posting to bookmarking sites that use NOFOLLOW tags if people read your posts and link back to your Web site.

7. Social media content is now integrated with search results: Search engines like Google and Bing are increasingly indexing and ranking posts and other information from social networks. Videos from popular sites like YouTube can also be optimized for indexing by the major search engines.

8. Brand monitoring: Having a social media presence gives you a better understanding of what current and potential customers are saying about your products and services. If you actively monitor social conversations, you have the opportunity to correct false or inaccurate information about your brand and address negative comments before they take on a life of their own.

9. Generate site traffic: You can create additional traffic if you regularly post updates on social networks that link back to your Web site. Social media bookmarking tools like Digg, Reddit, and Stumbleupon can also generate additional traffic to your site if you create frequent articles and blog posts.

10. Find new customers through your friends: You shouldn’t neglect your personal social media accounts as potential avenues to promote the activities of your business. Posting regular updates relating to your business and activities can remind your friends about what your company does and influence them to use your services or make referrals.

11. Find new customers through your company profile: Your company profile is a great opportunity for you to post regular updates on your activities and about important news and trends in your industry. This will attract the attention of new customers interested in your industry and increase your reputation as an expert in your field. It’s important to post regularly if you want to increase your followers or fans and convert them to potential leads.

12. Niche marketing: Social media enables you to reach very specific subsets of people based on their personal preferences and interests. You can create unique social media profiles to target these audiences or create strategies based on addressing individual interests.

Pam Dyer has 14+ years of MarCom experience, in-house for a number of years at Northwest Nexus and Winstar, and now as a consultant.

Have you heard of Habbo, MyLife, Netlog, Orkut, QZone, Tagged, RenRen or Vkontakte? These and plenty of other social networking sites boast impressive numbers of registered users on each, and they are but a few of the high fliers that may have nevertheless slipped under your radar.

Social networking is – despite its paradigm shifting promise – a business proposition not unlike many others: it begins with an exponential market grab, representing the transition from fad to trend more than anything else. That stage is now passed, and is being replaced by the inevitable “backlash and absorption” period: For every Facebook, there are many Bahus, Mugshots, Pownces, Sixdegrees, Soundpedias, Yahoo360s, et al. The list of broken and dissolved social networking sites will grow as alarmingly as once did the numbers of people registering on some of those same sites. This list will be matched only by the accelerating roster of social media companies being purchased, absorbed, liquidated, and otherwise consumed by more robust and aggressive “co-opetition”. This happened in the automobile industry, in the banking industry, in the airline industry…and it will happen with this new socially impactful dynamic.

So all this was predictable enough, and shall come to pass (it has already begun). However, there is a 3rd – and less quantifiable – dynamic which is inexorably rising in influence, and could prove more impactful than any of the other aforementioned mitigating trend milestones: user burnout.

When new social networking sites cropped up over the past few years, many of us felt compelled to sign up with each and every one, for fear of finding ourselves on the wrong bandwagon, stranded at the starting point while everyone else rode thrillingly forward on the roller coaster of social media engagement. Today, it is not unusual for individuals to belong to 5 or more social networking sites, and consequently spend a large portion of their day managing their online presence. This investment of time is not matched by the reward, and the ROI (Return On Investment) must be at least balanced for an initiative to survive. While the social media brands will do their part in the coming months to raise their value proposition via conglomeration, acquisition, and improvement, this will not- in and of itself – suffice.

I predict (not sure you can predict something that is already manifesting itself, but there you go!) that the next 4 months will see a powerful degree of social network decline and realignment, as consumers and users begin to streamline their social presence online, and deactivate certain accounts, in favor of others. We have kicked the tires long enough, and the testing phase is over. Selections will be made, and loyalties cemented.

Facebook
While Facebook has made several missteps along the way, I see most people sticking with that brand, so long as Messrs Zuckerberg et al don’t really screw things up: we sense there is a bigger, more long-term vision at play here, and are willing to stay on the ride, for the present.

LinkedIn
With a little spring cleaning, and cross-platform functionality (the Blackberry app is very weak, and the TripIt app seems occasionally buggy, to name but a couple), this brand could prosper during this phase. It remains to be seen how the business model will integrate itself with potentially complementary offerings.

Orkut/Plaxo
Can more than one address book aggregator survive? Is there a merger in the offing? Which will be the first to aggregate in the Cloud with full effectiveness? Will LinkedIn realize that it could – in fact – slip past these two in that offering, and become the default Cloud business address book, as well as online profile and professional group discussion environment?

iRead/GoodReads/Amie Street/Last.fm/ReverbNation/deviantART/Shelfari/Buzznet/ANobii/Librarything/etc…
There are way too many book and music social networks out there. Watch as the smaller ones either become absorbed into larger offerings (will Pandora and Slacker also move more aggressively in to the space and compete, or will partnerships such as the recent FB bridge suffice?), or carve out ever more specialist niches for themselves, like crabs scuttling out of reach of their predators..?

Stickam/OneWorldTV/FilmAffinity/YouTube/imeem/Gather/Flickster/Auters/etc…
How many social networks can the movie-fan community support? With Hulu and others bound to upgrade their social media integration, I imagine this will be another area ripe for confluence.

With over 400 (at last count) social networking sites currently in operation, and a plethora in the offing, we have finally reached the point, I believe, where saturation has peaked and integration and selective pruning will ensue, manifest from all quarters. As I suggested above, brands will dissolve through neglect or lack of differentiation; others will be absorbed by stronger enterprises, for better or worse; and still others will find themselves deselected by their user base: the Dodo birds of Social Media.

After a period of fat trimming, including some new introductions that make sense (Social Media for the under 13 set is a challenging but attractive sector, so long as the privacy and protection issues are well-managed, and there are several compelling players coming out in the next month or two), social media will settle in to its next phase of existence: less intrusive yet more smoothly integrated into our daily lives. The novelty has worn off, and the value needs to clarify and communicate itself. More importantly, the value must find a way to unobtrusively integrate itself in to our daily lives, so that it becomes a tool in our quotidian existence, as opposed to a distraction.

Habbo (162,000,000 registered users), MyLife (51,000,000 registered users), Netlog (62,000,000 registered users), Orkut (100,000,000 registered users), QZone (200,000,000 registered users), Tagged (70,000,000 registered users), and Vkontakte (73,000,000 registered users).