Understand A Social Network Before You Join

A couple of days ago I was talking about social networks and how they can be a valuable resource to your website and business. One thing important to remember with networks is that each is different. As communities develop they form their own rules and their own internal language and before you join one it’s a good idea to understand how they operate and what makes them tick.

When you travel to a foreign country it makes sense to learn at least a little of the language spoken there to help you get around. It might come in handy when asking where the bathroom is. You might also want to understand some of the laws in that country since while there you’ll be living under them. If it’s illegal to run around the town square after 10:00 PM you probably want to stay in or face the possibility of jail in a land where you can’t understand when your lawyer is agreeing to a sentence of life or worse.

The consequences might not be so bad if you join a forum without getting to know it first, but understanding the language and rules of the forum before joining is still a good idea. All communities are not the same. Subtle though the differences might be sometimes, what goes over well in one may offend in another. And the point of joining, at least in the context of helping your business, is to win friends and influence your neighbors, not alienate them.

It’s not about kissing ass or losing yourself inside the crowd, but you should at least know what the community considers appropriate before jumping in. You may very well be a great person with lots to offer, but if you join a vegan commune and pull out a steak for dinner it isn’t likely to go over well. And I wouldn’t expect you’d get a chance to finish your meal would inside the commune either.

Sometimes it may be ok to join a group where you are very different. If you’re left of center politically and you join a conservative community you will quickly stand out. That’s not necessarily bad. As long as you understand what’s crossing the line and what isn’t you may become the most sought after person as everyone wants to debate you. Networks profit with differing viewpoints. And many people with vastly differning viewpoints can still become friends with a desire to help one another. The trick is in knowing how far you can go without offending.

Remember to benefit from a network you want to contribute to it by becoming part of it. If you want to become part of the network you need to know how you can best fit within the group. That may be as someone who falls in with the majority and it may be as someone who stands out in the minority. Knowing yourself and learning how the group operates can tell you how you’ll best fit in that particular social organization.

There are some communities it might not make sense to join. Not all people mesh and while both you and a particular group of people may have much to offer, you may not have much to offer each other. The more you contribute the more likely the network will prove beneficial to you and the better you understand a community the better chance you have of becoming a contributing member. And again contributing doesn’t have to mean agreeing with everything else. Contributing means adding something to what’s already there. Before you can add something though, you need to know what’s there.

Online networks in a given industry often share members. I post regularly to several forums and see many of the same people in more than one and some of the same people in all of them. The membership isn’t 100% the same in any, but word does spread and if you build a poor profile in one you may find the next network biased against you before you get there. It may not always be fair, but sometimes you don’t get a second chance. Often you will get another chance, but doing a little home work upfront can eliminate the need and help you make a better first impression.

Often the heart of any network, the overall personality it has, is formed by a small amount of people withing the group. These people may change as new members rise to prominence and older members move on, but it’s likely a small group defines how everything works for the rest. These members may be the moderators of the forum or a select group of respected members, but getting to know who they are and what they consider acceptable will tell you a lot about how that particular group works.

You’ll also want to understand the network to see if you think you’ll enjoy being part of it. You may be thinking of your business when you join, but you may find yourself making friends once there. It might be a good idea to find some like minded people who share interests with you. If you’re going to be part of something you might as well enjoy it. It’s very easy to overlook that when you think about all this in regards to your business, but you should enjoy the time you spend with others. There are many groups I’ve joined at one time or another, motivated by something I had to gain, only to find myself so enmored of the people there that it made no difference if I ever got anything else other than the friendships. Interestingly those have usually been the most rewarding communities I’ve joined.

Social networks can be very valuable for a variety of reasons, but it’s best to learn a little about each before joining them. Understanding the nuances of networks can help you pick the ones you’ll better fit into and the ones you’ll better stand out in. It can help you integrate quickly and learn how to make the most of your experience. Understand how a community works and it will help you find your way within and generally provide for a better experience than jumping in blindly.

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