There are likely more than a thousand different online social networking websites out there. From the online forum for horror movie buffs to a site designed for individuals learning to cook, these virtual gathering places span a vast array of topics. No matter your need, there is surely an online community of people there to support you.
Now more than ever before in the history of the world, networking has become not only acceptable from a local perspective but from an international one as well. It is possible to log on to a social networking website and connect with individuals halfway around the world. People are signing up in droves to communicate with others, many of them thousands of miles away and often with experiences, cultures, and lifestyles just as distant.
But what’s the point of doing this in the first place? This question needs to be examined a little more closely.
It’s obvious that people are using the websites. Facebook alone reports over a billion users worldwide. Site members are able to perform simple searches leading to the reconnection with individuals with whom they may not have connected in decades. Photos are easily shared and instant updates keep friends abreast of daily activities. John, for example, updated his page fifteen minutes ago and is now working out at the gym, while Beth typed on Monday that she is anxious to potty train the mischievous toddler whose photo adorns her main page.
It’s likely you’ve already seen these networking features or heard about them from friends or family. In many cases you’re utilizing them yourself as it is.
You could say, then, that at the core of it is our need to keep our contacts abreast of what we’re doing. Perhaps it is done to ignite discussion or maybe you wish to solicit some advice or support. And for many of us, the need stops right there. It’s nothing more than a means of saying, “this is what I’m up to.”
For others, though, the effort requires a little more reward than that. In order for them to continue their use of these virtual worlds, they need to see a return on their status updates, to receive replies to their comments, to find the support they sought. Otherwise, like everything else, they cannot benefit from the site’s true potential.
So why do people gravitate to the sites? Why do they continue to use them? Better yet, when is the last time you logged on to a social networking website?
These are interesting questions. The over 1 billion members at Facebook certainly add up to an incredible number, but the real question is, just how many of those members are actively using the site?
Usage statistics are unfortunately hard to come by. The easiest to locate come from Second Life, a virtual world of avatars, which claims over 25 million residents with around 800,000 active monthly users. Similarly on Twitter, there are hundreds of million users registered but estimates say that there are actually less than 21 million active users.
If we compared the virtual networking world to real-life networking activities (the networking event at a trade show conference, for example) there would be a stark contrast. On one hand, committing to attending an event, then meeting people in person requires a very different — often much more productive — approach then logging onto a website. It is a slower process, requires a higher level of confidence, and always brings with it the possibility of rejection.
On the other hand, no one can argue the fact that logging onto a social networking website is much more efficient than going to a live event. It takes less time, more people can be reached (sometimes with only a click of a mouse), and the possibility of rejection is dispersed and has less impact on our egos.
There are a number of differences between virtual and face-to-face networking, yet at the same time they do share a lot in common. But at the core of each activity lies the same networking process. We take advantage of the websites because it seems too easy and we avoid face-to-face networking because it’s more difficult. If we start to bring both of these activities to a conscious level and make an effort to connect what we hope to accomplish with people in our lives, the point of the virtual and real world starts to make a lot more sense.
So there is an ultimate point to social networking websites, we just need to better evaluate their value and learn how to truly harness it. After all, it’s always wise to build your list of available and useful resources, and logging into the virtual world has the potential to connect us with an unlimited number of people who can provide those resources.