One of the most interesting sessions I attended at Mind Camp was led by Dan from Biznik on Social Networking. Social networking tools allow people to share information about themselves, other people and other things (like photos, products, etc) in a setting that attempts to foster a certain level of trust among users. For example, if I’m in the market to find a real estate agent, Biznik allows me to see the real estate agents that Dan would recommend I use. Assuming I know and trust Dan, that’s probably a pretty good recommendation.
The social networking website with the most buzz today is clearly MySpace. I can’t claim to know or use this service, but I know that my teenage sister (warning: music!) can’t imagine life without it. When she visits, she spends most of her visit checking up on her friends…
But there are lots of other social networks, and depending on how broadly you definitely the term, there could be hundreds, if not thousands, of social networking tools on the internet…
Some of the more popular social networks we identified during the session included:
These are some of the more popular services that are directly built to be “social networking” tools in that they are designed around giving users the opportunity to connect with “friends”. Some of them, like LinkedIn and Biznik, are designed to let users share job hunting and business contacts while Judy’s Book is about sharing references and recommendations about anything local.
The idea is that you’d be much more likely to purchase a product or use the services of someone if you knew that they were recommended by a friend (or more likely a friend of a friend).
[photopress:seo_networking.jpg,thumb,alignright]I’m often surprised that I don’t see more real estate professionals talk about social networking tools because real estate is really about relationships and social networks on the internet are just an extension of this idea. Social networking tools are one of the most powerful ways for real estate professionals to use the internet to connect with potential buyers and sellers. When you get a reference (or lead) from a social network, this person comes to you with a certain level of trust!
By the way, the tricky part about defining social networking tools is that most people don’t limit them to websites. Tools like instant messaging (IM) and email are simple ways to start building up a community through the internet.
In addition, tools like Flickr and del.icio.us, have perfected the art of using community input to make a service that is better than the mere sum of its parts. When sharing photos with Flickr, you enter a community where good photos are commented on and added to groups where a magic “interestingness” rating identifies photos most worth seeing. With del.icio.us you can follow the links and notes of the friends and they surf the web to find webpages worth visiting. (Both of these sites were bought by Yahoo for vast sums of money because of their ability to use the general web-surfing public to organize webpages for Yahoo!).
Which brings up the most controversial part of existing social networking tools. Just about every single one of them requires the user to input information (tags, descriptions, etc) that benefit the owner of the site, but very few of the tools (and none of the major ones) allow a user to output their information or delete their information when they don’t feel like “sharing” any more. Jim Benson probably covers this topic better than anyone else I know and his recent article, People vs. Peep Hole, dives into the idea that a corporate controlled community can never be free.
These concerns are interesting, and definitely worth following, but most real estate professionals are so far behind the curve in effectively using online networking tools that they should worry first and foremost about “getting involved”. In the future, someone will figure out how to keep our data “free” while still providing all the wonderful benefits of a social network, but until then, I’d highly recommend taking part in an online group that interests you… (By the way, joining a group of bloggers also counts! 😉 )
Right after I hit publish on this post, I got an email alerting me that the MindMap (a topic worthy of another blog post) for the social networking session was published on a file sharing site used for MindCamp stuff. Download the pdf file on the site to see a much more comprehensive list of social networking sites!