A few days ago, a journalism editor and friend asked if I knew anything about facebook. His question -- how is it useful?
I must admit, I'm a facebook newbie. Several years ago, I set up a profile I rarely used and then, finally, got rid of it. I just wasn't certain I wanted to share that much personal information with the world. Besides, very few people I knew actually used it. At 40-something, I'm not exactly the facebook demographic.
Shortly afterward, I joined linkedin.com, a professional networking site, and became slightly addicted. The thing that struck me was how easy it would make my life. Now, instead of looking up numbers or e-mails for friends, family or colleagues, everything was right there at my fingertips.
It was like an online Rolodex, if you will. It helped me reconnect with some folks, connect for the first time with a few others and maintain contact with everyone else. Plus, my bio is attached, which means I never have to go searching for a copy when I need one.
Since then, I've decided to give other social networking sites a try. I failed miserably on myspace.com. I was befuddled by the site, which required too much thought to use. But my second go-round at facebook turned out to be so easy that I may soon become a pro. When my friend e-mailed me to ask what I thought about its uses for a non-facebook-using journalist, I came up with a list -- so I share.
1. I discovered young people.
And they've all hooked up to me on facebook. Between kids of cousins, kids of friends and my former stepdaughter, I apparently know quite a few people under the age of 25. Who knew? And really, why did it escape me that prom season was here -- until I began looking at their photos?
2. My high school classmates are alive and well and on facebook.
And, oddly, some are using it more routinely than I. They send me funwalls and superpokes and all kinds of stuff I still haven't figured out. Given that we're the same age, there's hope for me yet.
3. People at work are hooked up.
I don't just mean the people at the Internet startup where I work. I mean folks from linkedin are on facebook, too. And folks who aren't on linkedin are there. And when their birthday or their newest photo is posted, I know right away on facebook -- which I can even get on my Blackberry. It helps me keep in touch with more people, more often, something I really didn't think was possible.
4. The place is chatty, chatty, chatty.
If I have facebook open during the workday, I often get e-mail from there -- rather than my e-mail address. Sometimes writers will ask me questions about their stories for the web site. Or friends will give me the latest news about layoffs or cutbacks in the print industry. Several times I have had instant messages from journalists asking for professional advice -- right now -- as part of real time.
5. There's even professional networking.
Since signing up for facebook, I have talked someone into doing some work for the site. In another case, I convinced an editor who runs a fledgling non-profit journalism organization to put up some information on facebook. And I've reconnected with other journalists I've lost track of over the years through the Poynter Institute project, which has connected more than 7,000 journalists around the world.
Recently, I came across an article in venturebeat.com with statistics for social networking sites. Myspace, the leader, had dropped one percent earlier this year. Facebook had increased 77 percent. Linkedin -- number eighth on the list -- had increased 729 percent. With those numbers, the question isn't how useful they are, but which one works better for you.