The good thing about social networking sites (let’s shorten that to SNS) is that those of us who work alone can feel like we belong to a community. I haven't met face-to-face with most of the online writers I know, but I feel comfortable asking them questions and participating in online discussions with them. At Twitter, which I like the most out of the current SNS offerings, you can even join a Twibe—I’m with the writers and the journalers. Twitter’s 140-word limit on entries (a.k.a. micro-blogging) forces you to get to the point, which I really like. Subscribing to other people’s feeds, known as following, is an easy process. I found the learning curve a bit higher at Twitter than at other sites—they use lots of acronyms and symbols, and there’s Twitter etiquette on how to use them all.
I probably under-utilize LinkedIn, which is a great SNS for professionals. I appreciate being able to send e-mails to potential clients/editors with a link to my profile, which includes my resume and references. The site also offers some job postings.
Facebook feels like a cyberspace watering hole to me: chit-chat, silly quizzes and games, lots of fun pictures, flirting. After I set up my Facebook page, I had to admit I was stumped. What on earth was I supposed to do with it? Twitter and LinkedIn had an easy, business-related purpose to grasp, but Facebook mystified me. Was it for friends or business acquaintances? It looked more like an environment for friends and family to me, so that’s how I decided to use it (although there's no escaping some cross-over between friends and business on these sites). My Twitter feed publishes to my Facebook page, and I do my best to spruce up Facebook with pictures. The benefits of staying in touch with people are obvious, but I don't want to spend too many hours on these applications.
Any of these sites can turn into serious time wasters. You can fritter away hours posting witty 140-word blogettes on Twitter, taking quizzes like “What Kind of Storm Are You?” on Facebook, and requesting recommendations from former clients and colleagues on LinkedIn. Online social networking is here to stay, and writers especially should have online presence, but you’ve got to set some limits. Sure, now we can socialize in our pajamas from the comfort of our home offices, but is that always a good use of our time? I remember being in an office when the boss walked through and everyone stopped socializing. Maybe we need a virtual manager to march past our cyber-water cooler and tell everyone to stop talking and get back to work. Now, that would be useful.
Picture courtesy of A B (aprilbell) at http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1063773