I don't know about you - but I feel like I'm a pretty savvy person, yet my capacity for online gadgets and social media tools is starting to reach the breaking point. I think Steve Rubel says it best.
So with all of the tools out there, which ones are worth your valuable time and attention?
Well here's my brash, unbridled, no-holds-barred opinion on some of the popular sites you may run across:
MySpace.com I use myspace to keep in touch with all of my friends and family. That's it - very little business (although I do have a link to my business website). I like myspace because I can send out event invitiations to everyone at once. For example - my birthday is coming up (June 28th in case you're feeling generous) and I wanted to get a bunch of my friends together. Instead of calling each friend individually, I sent an event invitiaton through myspace (similar to evite.com if you're familiar with that). Myspace then emailed all of my friends and showed them the invitation. My friends can RSVP and leave comments.
Which businesses can profit from a campaign on myspace? Well, most of what I've seen that has worked is restaurants and nightclubs. Check out my friend Dougie at the Element Lounge in Richmond, VA. He posts which bands are going to be on which night - so patrons can properly plan their partying. The other use I've seen for myspace is entertainment - book authors/publishers, bands, comedians, etc. So if you're an accountant do you need a myspace page? Not really, unless you're going to keep in touch with your friends and family. (P.S. - If you don't have either - you may want to start at Facebook.com - they're poised to become the #1 social networking site)
Linked In This is the one site that I can absolutely say did make me money this year. I'll get to how in a minute. Let's first talk about what Linked In is.
The main complaint I hear about Linked In is how it doesn't DO anything. People say they have a profile and contacts just sit there. Well, it's kind of like potential vs. kinetic energy. Linked In is a database of your networking contacts and their history. I use LinkedIn as a followup to networking events. Instead of sending an e-mail I send a LinkedIn invitation. It's all about building the database (potential energy) and using it strategically (kinetic energy).
Here are three ways I use LinkedIn. First, if I have two contacts who need to meet eachother and they're both in my Linked In network, I forward the LinkedIn profile instead of an e-mail. This way the person who's receiving the referral can check out the other person's history & recommendations. They can also e-mail them directly.
Secondly, If I have a question I can send it out to my contacts. For example, I was doing research for an article about websites that make businesses productive. I sent out the question to my contacts and got some great responses. I only had to post once, and the information was sent out to everyone - great time saver.
Finally, the way I made money - when I left corporate and started my own business I updated my LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn automatically sent an e-mail to all of my professional contacts letting them know that I had changed my profile and was now self-employed. Within 24 hours I received 15 phone calls, set 8 appointments and landed my first 3 clients. Granted, this is a one time event - but again - it's the kinetic energy.
If you used Linked In in the past where you had to pay to send e-mails (which was a big fat pain and kickout for many people) check it out again. Linked In changed their business model to generate more users by allowing anyone to e-mail without charge (smart move, I think).
Meetup.com I started using meetup for personal use, but have to say that I have made some amazing professional contacts through this site, so it's high up there on my value scale. Basically, meetup is an online tool to help you meet people in real life. You may want to check out my previous post where I discuss in detail how to use meetup for business.
Twitter I've tried it and think that this site is a complete waste of my time. Why do I need to post what I'm doing all the time? Who gives a rip? Plus, I can't even search to see if my friends are already on the site, which gives twitter a real big thumbs down for me. I know some people swear by it - I just can't figure out why I should bother.
MyRagan Kind of like Myspace.com but for MarCom professionals. I like it because it's easy to use and has a lot of rich content. Granted, if you're not in the marketing/advertising/PR field, you probably won't find it as interesting as I do. I wrote a longer review that you can check out.
Squidoo Ok, I kind of get the concept and I started my own lens. It's kind of like a website meets a blog and you get paid based on the number of visitors who come to your page. Frankly, the cutesy names are a little much - it's not as intuitive as I'd like. Looking at the top lenses (my favorite one is about tofu) I noticed that the content isn't really all that rich - I mean, I could definitely post a bunch of stuff there. I just feel overwhelmed and don't have the time. I guess one bonus is that once your page is created you don't have to bother with it too much after that. Unlike a blog, the work is definitely on the front end - which is why I just haven't taken the time.
Blogs The biggest mistake I made when I started my blog was going to wordpress.com (they host and it's free) and not wordpress.org (I host, it's still free but I can use a blog promote my links). About 2 months ago I got a slap on the wrist because I was including a link to my website at the bottom of each post. Now it's difficult to switch because I have dedicated readers and I'm not sure if they would follow me to a different site. I tried downloading the software and uploading my previous posts, but it came out all wrong. The frustrating part is that Wordpress.org has importing shortcuts for a Typepad or Blogger blog - but not a wordpress.com blog. Argh.
But enough about wordpress (who I really do like - it's open source). Who should use a blog and how often should you post? Well, it's kind of like a gym membership. Any business can benefit from a blog - but if you're not using it it's pointless. Keeping with the metaphor, I advise my clients to start slow when beginning their blogs. Have you ever joined a gym January 2nd, told yourself you were going to go 4 times a week and then that eventually turned into basically twice a year because you burnt yourself out? Same thing with blogging. Start slow - once a week. Once you have that under your belt go to twice a week. Then you'll eventually become addicted and be posting all the time. It's better to be consistent than to push yourself towards unrealistic expectations.
Del.icio.us, Reddit & Stumble Upon All these sites basically do the same thing - they allow you to bookmark your favorite webpages so you can refer back to them later. It's good to include links at the bottom of each blog post so your readers can easily "tag" your posts and improve readership. It's a habit I'm trying to get into - the blog I've set up is a template and I can't seem to do it automatically. Argh again.
My favorite of these is Stumble Upon because it allows you to "channel surf" the web. I highly recommend downloading the toolbar - it makes surfing & tagging ridiculously easy. Basically, you enter the categories you are interested and every time you press the "stumble" button on the toolbar a new page will come up. You can also rate sites to refer to them later. The more people that positively rate the site, the more often the page comes up. I found how useful this is first-hand when stumble upon readers sent over 800 visitors to my post Put Your Mind In the Gutter in just hours of posting.
Bloglines, Google Reader, My Yahoo! & Newsgator All RSS (Really Simple Syndication) readers so you can read all your favorite blogs in one place - BIG time saver! If you don't know what RSS is, click here for a brilliant video - RSS in Plain English. I switched from My Yahoo! to Bloglines and I've been really happy.
I know there's a bunch of new sites up too - so if there's one that you love (or hate) post it in the comments section below. I'd love to check it out.