You may want to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 before continuing. This time around I'd like to talk about social networking. We'll start with social networking. Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter are all good examples of using technology to let the social animal in us interact with others. Some people find it interesting, some find it compelling, some find it down right enthralling. I believe in a separation of work and home life when it comes to online, others blur that line to the point it doesn't exist. It's up to each of us as to how much of ourselves we want to put online in a context tied to work and how much risk we see in those choices. These tools are networking tools by definition, but do they really help us build our business network?
I'm not sure they do. It may be fun, interesting, pick your word, but maybe it's best use is to reinforce/maintain existing relationships regardless of the depth of the relationship.
Going to back to LinkedIn that I mentioned in Part 3, one of the things I think they do well is send out a digest of updates about people in my network. It's an every couple week kind of thing, it's light weight and easy to scan, and provides just a glimpse of what is going on in their world. That's pretty valuable (and other services probably offer a similar feature) because most of us aren't going to send a bi-weekly 'Read What I'm Doing Lately' email to our entire contact list. Not effective and probably not appreciated by the recipients, so having any way to communicate with your network is important. For me, it's primarily my blog at this point, but I can see that I probably need one more channel that is less frequent.
I'm wandering a little here. Networking is serious business, but part of it is social. In fact, much of it is social. Yet social doesn't necessarily equate to watching football and having a drink together. The trick - of many - is to apply the right amount of social-ness to each contact in appropriate proportion. That sounds so Zen I'm tempted to backspace, but it is how I see it at this point in my own networking evolution.
Rather than say that you should use this service or don't use that service, or make other rules, I think I'll keep it simple and open - build a networking strategy and be consistent about it. Adjust course as you need to and keep being consistent. Understand your networking goals and make sure the strategy supports it. Ultimately it has to be something that fits who you are, because anything else will seem forced and awkward (which isn't to say that you won't still have awkward times).