A Few Years of Social Networking – and What Did It Produce?

Think of social-network sites as big parks.
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Do you remember the last time you sat on a park bench at twilight and watched couples slowly walk by, arm in arm? Children run back from the ice-cream vendor, their faces lit with delight. The Indian summer breeze softly connects everyone who sits in the park.

I welcomed that sense of place I found in Vienna, that pastiche of Old World charm and post-war rebuilding. There, and especially in the Prater, Vienna’s Central Park, I was relieved to be away from the pressures of answering emails and keeping up with social networks, and I let myself be absorbed in human interactions and the magic of the moment – in old-fashioned time.

Not many people make money walking through the park. You don’t stroll down the lanes to spend money; you’re there to relax, socialize or people watch. That’s way we value city parks so much, and that’s why people are so drawn to social media.

Think of social media as a big Prater, where you can enjoy soccer, horse racing, baseball, and golf, an amusement park, where Orson Welles, as Harry Lime in The Third Man, went up in the ferris wheel to evade arrest, and say, "In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had 500 years of democracy and peace -- and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

Businesses have invested money in social media, but they haven’t figured out how to harvest their investments. How do you monetize human connections? The answer lies in a fundamental business truth: Business is about people.

A recent poll that appeared on SignWeb asked about visitors’ use of social-media tools. By September 23, 73 people had replied, and 48% (35) used Facebook; 12% (9) networked with LinkedIn; 5% (4) Tweeted; and 1% belonged to other sites. One-third said they don’t use social networking sites.

The sign industry readily adopts various technologies that improve existing fabrication methods and/or blaze new imaging paths. So, sign professionals are adopting social media for probably the same reasons – they can expedite communications and exchange information more fluidly.

The poll didn’t ask respondents if they really liked social media. After having googled “hate Facebook” and “hate Twitter,” I agreed with some scathing comments about how the rabidly popular sites devalue relationships, addict followers and aggregate personal details for evil, money-making, behind-the-scenes puppeteers, but why do so many flock to these sites, repeatedly?

An August 26 New York Times article said that almost everyone under 35 uses social networks, but their growth has derived from older adults, many of whom use them for professional purposes -- keeping connected with industry contacts and following news.
That’s why Signs of the Times started its own LinkedIn group, Signs of the Times Forum. After having learned what other ST Media Group publications’ social-media experiences had brought (new projects, article fodder, new readers and shared observations), ST decided to first venture forth with what we perceived to be the most “professional” social-media tool.

We’re still testing the water, and we invite you to join our group. On the LinkedIn site, go to the “Groups” tab, look up Signs of the Times Forum in the Groups Directory and hit “join.” Also, feel free to chat about some topics we’ve posted. Perhaps we can even chat in real time.

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