Are you on Facebook yet? Maybe you should be.
I made this pronouncement on my blog recently, encouraging my friends and contacts to join me in leaving LinkedIn behind. Little did I know the ripple effect it would have.
Within hours of my posting, several high-tech bloggers took note of the move and started their own LinkedIn vs. Facebook discussions, many asking whether Facebook, a site that began as a social network for college kids, could replicate LinkedIn, a network aimed at helping professionals forge and maintain business connections. Hundreds of my contacts who did not have a Facebook account as recently as March were swarming Facebook by mid-July. Everywhere there were "Facebook for Business" blog posts, and the network, it seemed, had suddenly recaptured the attention of key executives across the media, entertainment, communications, and Internet fields.
Facebook already was recognized as a growing and disruptive social site for young people, but it was starting to be seen as a viable force for business. We are in the midst of a coming of age for Facebook, and I have embraced the network fully.
Growing Apart from LinkedIn
I have no regrets—although like many in my demographic, I wasn't always a welcome member of its community. That changed in January when I met Matt Cohler, one of the Facebook co-founders, at DLD 07 in Munich and he invited me to join. At first, I connected with some relatives and just a handful of friends already there. For months, I was there but not paying much attention.
Then, in late May, a number of people "friended" me out of the blue. Some of them are people I never would have expected to find on a social network—whether because they're the wrong age, they were already on LinkedIn, or they simply weren't the type I would expect to share much personal information. I live a fairly public Internet life, but many of my tech friends wouldn't—or so I thought. I quickly realized something big was going on, and this time when I visited, I decided to stay for a while.
The more time I spent on Facebook, the less time I had for LinkedIn, where I had formed a large network, starting almost exactly four years before my public departure. On LinkedIn, what I ended up with was a network of people, many of whom I didn't know. I suppose it was my fault but I rarely refused someone who asked to connect with me. And over time, not only was I inundated with "connect me" requests from strangers, but I also was regularly spammed with reminders to follow up on such requests. What's more, my world at LinkedIn was pretty flat, nonviral, and there was no compelling reason for me to stay and interact with the community.
Once I left, I never looked back. Facebook is great for business networking as well as socializing, and provides a platform for creating networks among like-minded people. There are hundreds if not thousands of groups across a variety of business topics. And joining a business-oriented group and engaging with the community make it easier to establish yourself as a brand and forge networks than relying on a third party to make an introduction to someone you don't know.
Consider my recent trip to Israel, where I traveled in July for meetings and a speaking commitment. At the time, I had 100-plus friends on Facebook from Israel, and I thought it would be interesting to bring them together in what I call real-time social networking. I started by creating a Facebook event and invited friends using Facebook. Attendees could visit the event site beforehand and gather information that would facilitate later face-to-face networking.
In all, about 150 people attended the 2½-hour event. A venture capitalist friend was able to meet a number of below-the-radar startups. Other friends who are aspiring players in Israeli new media met each other for the first time and are now planning to collaborate on video efforts. On average, each guest made seven to eight new contacts, by my estimation. Based on the feedback I received, it was a successful experiment and something that I plan to do again. And it was only possible because of Facebook.
Like a Virtual Fraternity
The move to Facebook has upended my everyday life, too, both socially and professionally. I'm logged on for at least a couple hours a day, doing everything from updating my status (e.g., "Jeff is taking JetBlue flight 14 to JFK"), to catching up on groups I have joined, to checking and responding to Facebook messages. In fact, when I am on the road, friends find it easier to send me a message on Facebook than to my regular e-mail address. The same can be said for others I know.
Facebook has become something of a virtual fraternity, where I arrive home, walk into the living room, and check out what's going on. There are always people to catch up with and, since my friends are geographically distributed, there is usually someone online no matter where I am in the world, whatever time of day.
If you're new to the site, don't join every group. Don't add every application. Be selective. Look around. If your friends are not there yet, they will be. And don't be shy to invite them. Also, after you are on Facebook for a week, upload your contact list and check again. You may find that some of your friends have just arrived and you didn't even know.
And as we nonstudents arrive en masse, there will probably be some fallout and push-back from the core community of people who have been there from the start. How can it be that something that is cool for kids can also be cool for adults? But that's a small price to pay as Facebook transforms into a viral, vibrant home base for students and professionals alike, transcending demographics such as age and degree of coolness.