Friday, September 21, 2007

Professional social networking - or is there more to it?

So I'm talking to a bunch of cops and I ask, "how many of you have a MySpace account?

About 25% said they did, but for investigative (or other nameless) reasons only. I asked if they thought there was some value to networking in policework (we were at a conference), and they looked at me like my nose was on upside-down. Of course networking is valuable in policework - like it is in every other "business" that depends on at least one other person to do business. And no, I didn't bother asking whether they had Facebook, or Bebo, or Xing, or . . .

That got me to wondering why more cops don't use social networking sites for their networking. It's not like the business cards that get passed around at conferences every year are ever organized. Don't for a moment think that if you meet someone at a conference or even a professional meeting tomorrow, you'll remember who they are and where they work in 6 months when you need to make contact with someone in that department. So why isn't it being done or done better?

I think there needs to be a reason -- beyond making contacts -- for us to take the time to follow through with the networking. In the regular world of policing, that reason is usually an investigation. Contacting someone from another department about a case you need information on includes the dreaded and hesitant phone call that starts out with an introduction and ends with a request for inconvenience.

That's not much unlike a cold call, so as you can imagine many are not real excited about making that call. Ultimately, though, there is some communication in the middle where those communicating find common ground and some trust is established. They informally compare lists of friends from various sections or departments and find they both like certain people and despise others. At that point, a connection is made and business can be conducted.

So . . . why wouldn't social networking work in this scenario? The trust factor is already built when we find out there are mutual acquaintances. The contact has been made when we realize we have a common interest. And, the framework has been laid when we . . . communicate!

Social networks were built for communication. Though some may enter false information about themselves (to protect their identities) as reported on Marketing VOX, for the most part we get honest with our posts, and downright personal with our private messages. Some are even using Snapvine, an online voice player, to add and receive voice messages directly on their personal pages. We as humans have the need to communicate, and it appears we will use a variety of mediums to do so. Check out Jay Deragon's post on how conversations are facilitated by social networks.

Speaking of communication, have you seen Jangl yet? There are lots of applications for Jangl (and similar solutions), including the saving of long distance and the relative privacy afforded by having someone click on an unidentified link to call you rather than using your direct phone number. Jangl has lots of uses in the social networking applications, and more in the rest of the world.

I'm finding a lot of usefulness for programs that initially seem to take a long time to set up but show their worth in the long term. I just got off the phone with a mortgage specialist who had a telemarketer call (it's OK, there's a relationship already with my bank) to ask if I wanted to look at the rates. Though I usually shun telemarketers and banks who don't have the patience to wait for me to respond to their traditional marketing methods, with the Fed's recent drop of the interest rates, I figured I could have that conversation while multi-tasking. I had a pleasant, not pushy, conversation with Ana, and told her that 1) if I decided to refi and 2) it was with her bank, I would 3) contact her first. I'm thinking about inviting her to join my social network . . .

[UPDATE: per my request, Ana emailed me her contact information. She's on LinkedIn. I've sent an invite . . .]

[UPDATE 2: We're connected, if you want to meet a hard-working mortgage specialist, check out my connections on LinkedIn]

By the way, I got that call while reading a blog on social networking . . . and learned so much more than I was prepared for. If you think you understand social networking, check out this overview from Jay Deragon.

What do you think?

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