What’s All the Buzz about Social Networking Applications?

It was nearly standing room only for this afternoon’s two-hour session on social networking—a hot topic indeed these days. Four panelists discussed their experiences with using these systems and how they can be used in professional or academic environments.
Karen Huffman from the National Geographic Society (NGS) is “hyper-connected” and uses a number of social networking tools, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Ning. (In fact, she was Twittering the session during the presentations of the three other panelists!) Click here for a list of her contacts and resources.
Social networking tools overcome the problems we have because we do not always have the luxury of meeting face to face. In today’s world, the reality is that workplace patterns are shifting, work has become global, there is an increased emphasis on collaboration, and budgets are shrinking. E-mail is still very popular, but the current trend is “Down with e-mail—go to the social spaces instead!”
At NGS, widgets have become popular because they come from a high quality and reputable source , and NGS actively makes much of its content available online, such as its Collector’s Corner and Explorer’s Hall museum displays. Huffman has found that one interesting result of using social networking is the unanticipated relationships that it facilitates.
In the academic setting, Facebook has become the most popular platform, as Laura Leavitt from the University of Michigan has observed. Although many administrators think social networking is a fad and there is no need to get involved, the fact is that 70% of American college students have Facebook profiles. Millennials are heavy users of Web 2.0 tools, which are nothing unusual to them.
Even the corporate world is getting involved with social networking, as Michele Vivona,Vice President at LexisNexis, reported. The lines between professional and personal lives are blurring; the ways people research and learn is changing, and so are their expectations, so user generated content is flourishing. Web 2.0 has become a stepping stone on the way to the semantic web. Common threads in social networking sites include the latest news, career information, videos to download, podcasts, and videocasts. Some organizations have developed websites for their users to vote and give their opinion products; Starbucks  has pioneered in this area.
According to Vivona, LexisNexis has found that customers want more content and more customization, the ability to give feedback without registering, and fresh content on each visit. It is important to make it very clear what is free on the site and what is not.
We used to connect with each other in very time-consuming and not always successful ways. As Jill Hurst-Wahl of Hurst Associates, Ltd., has found, now we don’t know what our colleagues look like even though we know each other from online contacts. Many social networking sites are really micro-communications, and they have made us more responsive. The benefits of social networking tools are connecting, sharing, collaborating, learning, and promoting ourselves. And we have a menagerie of tools to use for purposes such as instant messaging, chatting, sending short messages, blogging, and photo sharing. 
Many people may feel that there are too many tools and not enough time to use them all. But they are ways to hyper-connect with your colleagues. You can make the choice of being connected or not, but that should not stop you from using these tools.
Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today

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