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Why you need a social hub

If your business is not participating online in the latest social media, many will perceive you as not terribly savvy or as disinterested or disconnected — and less worthy of their time or money.

Any business today can’t function without technology like a telephone, fax machine or email. But when you think about how relatively unchanged office work was from the earliest part of the last century until the advent of personal computers in the late 1970s, much of the technology used in offices evolved incrementally.

In less than 15 years, however, there has been a leap. An acceleration of the global Internet — and an increasing number of humans connected to it — has made the Internet network effect one of the most profound shifts in how we currently connect with people, perform our work and even socialize.

The network effect is the impact that one user of a good or service has on the value of that product to other people. The telephone is the best example: if you had a telephone but no one else did, the usefulness of that device would be zero. As more and more people obtain telephones, you can call them, they can call you, both of you can call businesses, schools or the firehouse, and a dizzying array of uses are found to harness this connection, making the tool what it is today: indispensable.

But times have changed. Expanding numbers of savvy leaders in businesses of all sizes, individuals and those in various professions are quickly realizing that this network effect has taken a different turn as people have rapidly embraced social networks and social media (e.g., blogging, Twitter, text messaging, and location-based “find your friends on a map” services with GPS-enabled mobile phones like Google’s new Latitude, etc.).

Photos, video, maps, restaurant reviews and more have become “socially connected,” enabling people who are connected to share information, aggregate this data, move it and participate in its creation with digital devices and Internet connections instantly. The expectation of these “always-on, always-connected” people is this: You, your business or organization are right there alongside them engaged and participating online.

You’re not? Then, increasingly this group will perceive you as not terribly savvy, perhaps arrogant, disinterested or disconnected and, therefore, less than worthy of doing business or connecting with going forward.

You may disagree with that argument, but let’s look at a few facts:

Technorati indexes about 1.5 million new blog posts every day.

Twitter grew 752 percent in 2008 with 4.43 million visitors to Twitter sites in December alone.

Tens of millions of people engage in social network sites like Facebook (150 million-plus) and the demographics are skewing older.

• Even the photo-sharing site Flickr boasts that members have uploaded 3 billion-plus photos.

If you buy into the argument that there is a significant and growing amount of social activity and momentum with a myriad of online tools, what are you to do about it? How can you get in the game and start playing with social networking and social media?

Building your social hub
Strategic organizational social-hub requirements are too complex to cover in this article, so here is a brief overview of what one looks like for an individual, professional or small business.

First, you need an “anchor,” so you don’t drift all over the Internet signing up for services that you can’t easily coordinate or orchestrate. There are too many out there, and you’ll quickly get overwhelmed and dilute your effort and participation within them.

Choose a blog as your hub. It should connect to all your other services (e.g., to your Flickr account, Facebook page, LinkedIn profile, etc.) and you’d do that by signing up for them and then displaying links in your blog sidebar. One example is the listing of services that Minnov8 co-founder Tim Elliott displays in his blog sidebar here. Make it easy for your friends, family, colleagues, prospects or customers to easily find where you participate and be quickly able to make choices on where and how to connect with you.

Here’s a simple example of one way to coordinate your social activity within a hub: Let’s say you have a blog powered by WordPress and a Twitter account. You install the “Twitter Tools” plug-in so that whenever you publish your blog post, it automatically updates your Twitter account “New Blog Post: “Name of Blog Post is Here”. Then whoever is following you has the opportunity to instantly be aware of your post and read it.

There are also ways to have your Twitter “tweets” show up as a daily digest of tweets that are a post on your blog. That post you published can also instantly appear on your Facebook page as it’s automatically updated.

Another example: You go and create a free YouTube channel and brand it. Have a link from your blog sidebar so people that want to see all your videos can do so. But you can easily publish (by embedding) a video right into a blog post so that channel and your blog are connected …

… and on and on. This is the same concept if you sign up for social bookmarking, photo, scrapbooking, and any of the other hundreds of offerings available to you right now.

It’s likely you didn’t wait until 2000 to get a fax machine and until everyone else on the telephone network had one, did you? Before the Iinternet explosion, that device became indispensable for most businesses, relatively inexpensive and became as integral to doing business as it was having a telephone.

The key to embarking upon a social hub is that you start now. Don’t engage in tons of research, build out a strategy and plan and choose the perfect services.

Blogs and self-publishing are cheap. Most of the key social networks or social media services are free or have inexpensive options. The rate at which people are participating online — and the proliferation of such device types as cheap netbooks and smartphones — is not going to slow down anytime soon, and increasingly anyone you interact with will expect that you are connected and are social online, so just begin and you’ll figure out what works for you as you go along.

Or maybe you should just wait and get that fax machine next year.