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You've Got A Friend

Social networking websites are what you need to make a stronger online presence and reach a wider market.
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Social Networking Websites are specialized community portals that represent a user's relationship with offline and online contacts. These portals have penetrated mainstream culture as well, reaching different demographics that need to represent themselves online. Today, almost everyone with access to the Internet has an accessible profile in big social networking portals like Friendster, MySpace, and Facebook, while some variants of the portal cater to specific users, from dog-owners, travelers, sports enthusiasts, to businessmen.

In July 2005, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, a big company known for its traditional media investments, acquired the previous owner of Myspace, Intermix Media for $580 million. This move clearly demonstrates the potential and current value massive social networks can create. Not only is the community there, it's a community that's willing to spend time and effort in expanding their networks. It's serious business.

This is also true in the Philippines. Friendster, one of the major social networking portals that went mainstream, has the biggest population of Philippine-based users. When the service was launched in 2003, invitations from existing users were sent out to encourage their peers to join the network. The ease of inviting users to the network, matched with Filipinos' affinity towards an overall sense of belongingness to a community, has resulted in a critical mass of users. Pinoyexchange, who mediates for targeted advertising on Friendster.com, says there are over 4.5 million Filipinos on Friendster, majority of whom come from the 18 to 24-year-old range. Local content providers also realized the potential of the service and expanded the portal to mobile phones, with Filipinos getting SMS alerts on activity related to their profile.

The fundamental feature found in social networking websites would be the profile page. The profile page typically displays brief information about the user like age, hometown, interests, and biographies. Of course, profile pages won't be complete without pictures and most recently, embeddable videos from YouTube. These give the user an avenue to come up with an accurate description of himself.

Social Networking Sites also offer a venue for user-generated content. Friendster and MySpace provide an integrated blogging service on top of the social networking features. Some sites also provide options for cosmetic changes of their profile pages by giving access to third-party page templates and support for HTML.

One interesting practice is the creation of profiles that represent a product or a user group. Usually created by fans of the service or the business owner itself, it's an easy way to build a community around a service that has actual people attesting to it. It's not surprising to see companies, local movies, and restaurants having its own page where they post bulletins, candidly describe their service and even provide links and contact information.

Social networks are designed to be viral. Friendster makes use of a bulletin board system that allows users to post news articles that can be viewed. It makes sure that all the user-generated content, if deemed worthy, spreads like wildfire.

Given the concept's popularity, several social networking sites have been put up to cater to specific niches. After all, some features found in popular sites like Friendster and Myspace may not appeal to all members of the community. Also, not everyone may find some site content, and to what extent these sites allow users to find outside the network helpful to them. If you plan to use social networks to help you with your business, LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) might come in handy.

As a business-oriented social networking site, LinkedIn provides the most conducive environment for networking. Boasting over 7 million members from various industries, some estimate their active rate at around 1.3million users. Upon signing up with the service, the process of expanding your network mimics a real-world networking scenario. The user initially looks for someone with whom they've worked in the past or attended the same school. If a connection has been made, the system allows the user to also look into other people's business contacts and appropriate descriptions are provided like what industry they're engaged in, current position in the company, and see recommendations they've made on other members in their network. This is particularly useful in looking for suppliers and potential customers within a trusted network. Compared with other social networks, LinkedIn is purely business and lends a professional feel to your profile page. If you're looking to hire people for your business, LinkedIn makes it easy by allowing users to post job openings with a fee.

LinkedIn's business model is based on users upgrading their free accounts to a premium monthly service ranging from $19.95 to $200.00 a month. Of course, serious users benefit from the premium accounts by giving them the ability to go outside their current business network.

Nevertheless, there's the issue of whether or not the social network you are in is a trusted one. But as a business owner, social networks make for an inexpensive and intimate marketing channel that turns you into a friend.

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