Social networking is here to stay. Popular videos like the one here, point to the compelling reality about what’s happening and great benefits of developing online connections. The key is to balance your time and activities online.

Public social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn allow anyone with an email address to sign up, login and meet people around the globe as well as next door. That means there is a huge opportunity for forming valuable relationships. In fact, statistics show that the networks are growing and so is the time the average user spends on these sites. Nielsen reported that in March of 2011, users spent an average of six hours and thirty-five minutes on Facebook alone. Twitter grew by 460,000 users per day in February 2011.

In addition to the public social networking sites, many groups, academic institutions and organizations have developed private (invitation only) networking sites where people with a common interest or affiliation can network. Often times, these sites feel a bit more controlled and safe.

These sites meet the need people have to reach out, connect and stay informed.

Why Spend Time on Social Networking Sites?

Since so many people are choosing to spend their time online, you might be wondering if they are receiving any benefit aside from surfing and playing games. In February  2011 what we saw with the political change in Egypt was made possible because of people connecting on social media. Millions of dollars were raised in just a few days for Japan in March of 2011 because of the help requests made and responded to on twitter, facebook, LivingSocial, GroupOn and other social networks.  Here are two sources that show the various ways social media and text messaging has been used for fundraising efforts for Japan relief

In your everyday life, the benefits of spending your time wisely on both public and private social networking sites might include the following possibilities. Make a note of which of the following are most important to you.

  • Meet new friends
  • Reconnect with former colleagues, alums, friends from childhood, relatives, etc.
  • Stay in touch with family and children (48% of parents are friends with their kids on facebook)
  • Share with your friends/colleagues your personal and professional news
  • Connect with colleagues who can be a resource to you and contribute to your work
  • Receive opportunities to write for an industry or local periodical
  • Establish a connection with influential people in your industry
  • Grow your visibility if you want to become better known in your field.
  • Find a job
  • Find service providers, coupons, deals, warnings
  • Share interesting cultural events, opinions, products with your network
  • Listen to what other’s challenges are that you can help resolve
  • Get your technical questions answered
  • Order a taxi cab, latte, and more
  • Get better customer service
  • Generate camaraderie with people like you
  • Stay current on industry news as well as local and global events

The list of possibilities for developing new connections and taking it a step further really is endless. To get benefit from social media, identify the benefit that would make spending time on these social media sites worth it.  If you have a benefit that you derived from being a member of a social media site and is not on the list above, please share how you are benefiting from social media in the comments below.

Social networking sites are relationship oriented. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, when you become “friends” with someone on Facebook, you must be a good friend. You can actually reach out to people you don’t know well or want to know better and ask them to connect (“be friends”).  Facebook chose the word “friend” to mean someone you want to place in your network, communicate with and have some level of relationship (from acquaintance, friend or family). Other networks like Twitter refer to your network of Followers and people you are Following. LinkedIn refers to your network as Connections. In other words, every network has a different terminology for “people you are connected to.”

Guidelines for Not Wasting Time on Social Media

Some people are understandably resistant to the idea of spending time on social media for fear of wasting too much time. To meaningfully connect on these sites and make the most of your time, here are some guidelines.

  1. Before logging in write down (or be clear in your mind) what you want to accomplish on the networks.
  2. Set a timer.
  3. Avoid playing games (unless you have time to waste or really set your timer)
  4. Avoid clicking links if that’s not in your list of objectives from item 1.
  5. Check and respond to personal communications first. These include
    1. Email messages sent from within Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
    2. Profile and fan page comments on Facebook
    3. @Mentions on twitter
  6. Track and evaluate your time. Keep a little spreadsheet you can fill in and say what you accomplished.
  7. Share once a day.  Don’t inundate your friends and connection
  8. Use an aggregator site like hootsuite.com to track all your social media sites from one place

Please share you tips for working effectively on social media sites with us.