Written by David Thompson
Social Networking can be very easy, though it often times seems intimidating at first. For the web savvy, the methods and means are very simple and intuitive but even those that are only semi-literate in the ways of the web can be taught how to quickly use these tools and how to apply them. A social network’s ease of use can be a great detriment as it is easy to lose sight of their purpose and be consumed by their siren’s call.
Training is done in five steps commencing with basic understandings and concluding with actual usage.
Step 1 – Understanding
Our training starts with a basic understanding of the various types of social networking tools available and how they can be used. This includes Instant Messengers, Twitter, Blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace.
Instant Messenger services such as Yahoo, Google Talk, AOL Instant Messenger, Jabber and Microsoft Live offer a quick means of determining if a given contact is available for communicating and an unobtrusive means of chatting with them. These services provide for a degree of anonymity since others cannot “see” who you chat with. Twitter is a great way to do push marketing and to make announcements to interested parties quickly and with ease. It allows for fast updates to be made and for those that “follow” ones account to be kept apprised of new and important messages. While micro-blogging is still relatively new, its power seems to be visible already.
Blogging is a means to self-publish information, articles and important news to a wide audience as blogs are typically open to the entirety of the Internet. Posts can be small updates to expansive and detailed articles about a myriad of topics. This kind of publishing allows one to be easily seen and their credentials and expertise to be validated.
Social Networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn work as great launch points for creating a community of like-minded individuals and allowing for extended networking opportunities with those “friends of friends”. As the network expands, the opportunities for collaboration and finding individuals with like interests and problems grows. These sites also provide a quick and easy way to post questions and announce success to the entire network. Lastly, many of these sites also allow for integrated instant messaging, micro-blogging and standard blogging.
Once a basic understanding of how these technologies can be used is achieved, it’s time to move into the next phase where these technologies are used personally and professionally by the advisor who can then train his/her clients on them.
Step 2 – Sign Up
Certain social networking and media sites are more frequented and targeted than others in certain regards. The basic sites include Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Gmail and Yahoo. Gmail is special in that it allows for email, Instant Messenger service for Gtalk and AOL instant Messenger and provides access to the full suite of Google tools including calendaring and blogging on Blogspot. Yahoo, though not as powerful or versatile as Gmail, does also provide links into Microsoft Live instant messenger and is the most popular email and messenger service available.
The first step to any social networking is signing up. When it comes down to it, most social networking sites require the same information, or similar information, including: first name, last name, email address and a password. Beyond those four basic items, most sites will also ask, but not require, information in the way of where you reside/work, what hobbies you have, and other general purpose information to try to point you to people of similar interest.
Once the sign-up is completed, most sites will allow you to attempt to find existing friends and associates by checking your e-mail address book against known site members. These sites allow for quick access to Gmail, Hotmail, Live and Yahoo accounts and some will allow the use of an Outlook email account, though often times only if administrator access is available on the local computer.
Step 3 – Aggregation
The last step of setting up social networking is to make it even easier than the individual sites proclaim by integrating everything into a single aggregator or two. In this case, Firefox is commonly used as the main social networking aggregator and Pidgin as the instant messaging aggregator.
Firefox is an open-source web browser that can be used in lieu of Internet Explorer, Opera or Safari. The Firefox open framework allows for numerous extensions and add-ons to enhance the experience and a few of these add-ons make social networking very easy by allowing one to aggregate Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook all in one location, such that whenever the browser is open, these sites and their basic tools are available immediately.
Installation of Firefox takes only a few minutes and then the following add-ons set it up to be the aggregator:
IETab – allows Internet Explorer to be run in a Firefox tab to allow access to sites that require Internet Explorer.
TwitterFox – An add-on which allows for immediate posting to Twitter accounts and receipt of posts for those one follows.
Facebook Toolbar – An add-on that integrates your Facebook account into Firefox.
LinkedIn Companion to Firefox – An add-on that integrates your LinkedIn account into Firefox.
Gmail Manager – This add-on checks your gmail account automatically and provides snippets of new mail as well as allowing one-click access to open your mail in a new tab.
Once the add-ons are added to Firefox, they need to be configured with the account names and passwords of their respective services, but once done, they require no maintenance other than periodic upgrades which Firefox will prompt for when necessary.
Pidgin is another open-source application used to aggregate instant messenger services. By default, it allows for XMPP protocol which is used for personal messenger services, Gmail, Yahoo and the other popular services. It can also utilize plugins to integrate Facebook instant messenger as well. It also takes just a few minutes to download and then quickly sets up each account for use.
A setting inside Pidgin’s Plugins forces it to start when Windows starts and the user recieves a task tray icon for an application that can be used to open a friend list and start chats. Chat windows will also pop up as others initiate them.
Step 4 – Policy
Once everything has been setup and aggregation completed the world of social networking is completely open and available for use. The simplicity of these tools means they can become integral to one’s day quickly and easy. A couple of basic policies can help keep these systems relegated to their proper place, reduce habitual need to utilize them and provide proper contexts.
The first truly necessary policy involves confidentiality. Because social networking is about being social, one must link with other individuals. From a business perspective, this is pretty safe, but from an SBDC perspective, certain concessions need to be made. With most systems you have a chance to provide a yes or no answer to whether or not you want to be linked with others, and with clients this ability can often times be viewed as implied consent to release their name as being connected with the SBDC. Certain networks, like Twitter, do not require consent and so it requires a client to give express consent by making the connection themselves.
The second policy involves the amount of time that should be spent dealing with social networking in a non-advisory capacity. While a certain amount of time is required to understand their uses, further usage should be kept to a minimum unless utilizing the tool in a manner that could be captured as on-line advising. This is most easily done with Instant Messenger systems.
These two basic policies provide a starting framework for a social networking policy, but do not address the more human issues of the SBDC network, nor do they address the potential infrastructure, IT or one-on-one training that may be required or desired as well.
Step 5 – Use
The last step is required to fully understand social networking; the systems need to be used. Blogs need to be written, Tweets expressed, messenger contacts made and social networks established. This all takes time and perseverance, and like any new tool, the immediate benefits may not be seen.
Networks take time to grow and establish themselves and additional means of “getting the word out” may be required as well. This may take the form of comments on other’s blogs, writing wiki articles and/or making comments and posting to on-line forums. These additional means of social networking are out there as well, but are more established formats.
Firefox web browser is from Mozilla and can be found at http://www.mozilla.com
Firefox add-ons can be found at http://addons.mozilla.com
Pidgin instant messenger can be found at http://pidgin.im