Small Office, Home Office Solutions

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\"DellBanner3\"Social Networks Provide a Connectivity Safety Net for SOHOs

By David Barbosa

Not too long ago, most business social computing activities were limited to occasional forays into America Online, Yahoo! and maybe a few quick hits in CompuServe.

If you wanted to do some serious networking, you had to leave your office, drive your car or hop on a plane, and meet people face-to-face. You could dabble in video chat, or join a computer forum and duck into a private discussion room, but these engagements were a little awkward and not very productive.

Today, however, the social networking options are nearly endless and the tools and technology to stay connected and in sync range from highly mobile pocket devices and telepresence software to powerful desktop systems that double as videoconference workstations.

FaceBook is easily the most popular and well known social networking platform, with more than 500 million active users and more than 30 billion pieces of content shared between members each month. A lot of businesses have established a FaceBook presence, given the enormous worldwide community of members – which would essentially make FaceBook one of the largest countries in the world if it were an actual geographic entity.

Facebook members are also very active, with 50 percent or more logging in at least once a day. More than 2.5 million websites have also integrated with Facebook, including some of the top U.S. and worldwide sites, according to Facebook execs.

Booking Face Time

It\’s no surprise that a lot of major and minor businesses have established a FaceBook presence as part of their social networking efforts. This not only gives them the ability to target specific groups of people, but can also open a few viral doors since the average FaceBook user has 130 or more friends plugged into their network pulse.

Connecting to business associates and customers through FaceBook and other widely-available social nets is important since you can:

  • Reach out and identify people who can help you promote your website, products
    or services;
  • Gather more up to date and grass roots information on your target industry and
    core demographic audience;
  • Find bloggers, podcasters and others who may be willing to help promote your
    product or services;
  • Identify and instantly pursue sales leads and customer contacts.

With more than 100 million members, the LinkedIN social network is a distant second when compared to FaceBook. However, LinkedIN has evolved to become the leading virtual community for professional and business users, and is presently growing at a rate of one new user per second, according to the company. Unlike FaceBook, which encourages friends and family to gather and exchange information, LinkedIN is all about sub-communities of users who get together to exchange business ideas, leads and contacts. Members can join very specific professional groups, or establish their own and attract members.

There are a number of SOHO-related groups that are now active on LinkedIN, ranging from communities that are focused on technology, to ones that provide a more entrepreneurial approach. Two of the larger groups now active are the Small Business Network and the Small Business Professionals communities, with a combined total of close to 10,000 members. Again, this number may pale in comparison to Facebook, but don’t forget that LinkedIN groups are laser-focused on specific areas of business, include members who are active SOHO/SMB people or have experience in those areas, and are well suited to provide support and consulting to fellow members.

Keep in Touch Tools

Signing up for online social networks and groups is fine, although you really won’t benefit from your efforts unless you can jump into these groups on a regular basis to exchange thoughts and ideas. This is easy when you are working from your home or office and have easy access to a desktop or notebook system with a wired or wireless network connection. It\’s a bit more challenging when you are away from the office and may not have your notebook PC with you; or you do have it, but the power runs out.

One of the best options is a smartphone, most of which support mobile versions of FaceBook and LinkedIN. These can be downloaded through the smartphone’s \’app store\’ or directly from the FaceBook or LinkedIn site (and then installed when you sync your smartphone with your desktop). These applications work pretty well, although they do not offer all of the features available like the ones given when using your desktop or notebook PC. If you want full access to everything your social net has to offer, then you’ll have to carry and crank up your notebook or, as many are starting to use, a tablet PC which is designed to give you the full browser experience.

Tablet PCs are quickly becoming a de facto mobile tool for business users because of their light weight, wide range of capabilities, and their very long battery life – which makes them perfect for flight-hopping between airports.

More than 165 million tablets are expected to ship over the next two years, according to the latest survey data from Google. The search engine giant surveyed more than 1400 tablet users and discovered that 68% spend at least one hour per day using their device, and more than 40% spend more time with their tablet device that with their desktop, notebook or smartphone. Nearly 30% of the people surveyed admit using their tablets as a primary computing device, while roughly 56% say they prefer using their tablets for accessing social media sites and networks.

Add these statistics to the fact that tablet PCs are great for making presentations to potential clients, catching up on the latest business reading, or creating a quick Powerpoint or two, and it’s easy to see why tablets are fast becoming the tool of choice among the social network-minded SOHO set.

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