The ease with which you can find like-minded people with these sites is pretty breathtaking. The ability to precisely define a demographic target audience is particularly fine tuned with MySpace and Facebook’s advanced search functions.
Understand The Community
These sites, of course, are particularly sensitive to their users getting spammed, as they should be. The thing is, the users of these sites are not averse to receiving commercial messages, they just need to get them on their terms. They are happy to be brand fanboys and promote their favorite brands on their pages and friends lists; you just need to give them a valid reason to do so.
That’s why it is essential to become an active member of these communities. It is imperative that you understand the culture of a given social networking site. You do that by joining the conversation, listening to the community, and exploring how the community works. Add value to the community by being helpful or providing valuable information or content and in that way build up trust among the community members.
I’ve also seen many cases where the users of these sites have created their own communities around a brand without the company even being aware of it or before the company has established a presence in the social networking site.
Social Networking As A Media Relations Tool
I’m seeing more and more journalists, bloggers, and other online content creators using Facebook and LinkedIn as a tool for cultivating sources and maintaining relationships with them. This aspect of social networking is clearly mutually beneficial. It makes it very easy to communicate with journalists and bloggers on their terms.
Social Networking As A Business Development Tool
Of all the social networking sites, I am most impressed with LinkedIn, by far. Based on the notion of six degrees of separation, LinkedIn examines the details of your contacts and makes suggestions of people LinkedIn thinks you should know.
Nine times out of ten, those recommendations are exactly right. The people LinkedIn recommends may not always be people I know, but more often than not they are people I know of. And if I don’t know who the recommendations are, they are at least in the right industry or there is some clear rationale behind the recommendation.
You never get those bizarre, from-left-field suggestions you sometimes get at Amazon.com. Like, why in the world would you think I wanted a book knitting for beginners?!?
LinkedIn’s search function is just as impressive as Facebook and MySpace, except with LinkedIn, you’re getting a list of people who are often among the most influential people within their organization. If that person sees that you know some of the same people, they are going to be more likely to trust you than they would otherwise.
As with Facebook, I’m seeing a lot of media people on LinkedIn. A search for "New York Times" returns 50 pages worth of results.