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Sep 28

Ministry Networking: Facebook, LinkedIn and Myspace

Myspace, perhaps the hottest dot com around for the past few years, now has competition.  Serious competition.  Business week recently featured a series of articles on the emergence of Facebook as a networking tool of choice not just for students, but business professionals (that includes ministry folks) as well.  Biz tech guru Guy Kawasaki writes on 10 ways to use LinkedIn, another popular networking tool prominent among professionals.  One thing is for certain: it”s not just about Myspace anymore.

Here’s our two cents on what appear to be the top networking sites:

1) Facebook.  Once the domain only of high school and college students, Facebook recently opened up the floodgates to those who have graduated from college, and it’s now growing in popularity among the 30 and 40 year old set, somewhat to the chagrin of many high schoolers who had grown weary of the older crowd showing up on Myspace.  Facebook is growing quickly, as more people realize it’s not just for students anymore.  Inside Facebook reports there are now 42 million users at Facebook, double the number from a year ago.  Estimates also are that more than half of all Facebook users are now outside of college, and 85% of all college students are on Facebook.  Plus, progammers are developing applications daily that make the site more and more useful.  Limited only to individuals (though you’ll find some ministries and organizations on there who somehow slid through the system before Facebook cracked down), organizations can open "Groups" through a member and communicate through that medium.  Observation: Some people seem to list anyone and everyone as a "friend" as they do at Myspace while others only befriend true friends and relationships.  We’re still not clear ourselves whether it’s supposed to be a true "I know him or her" network, like LinkedIn, or if anything goes like Myspace.  Nonetheless, we are convinced that Facebook is here to stay and will soon be even larger than the Myspace phenomenon was a few years ago.  Google and Microsoft think so too, as both are rumored to be interested in buying a stake in the company.

2) LinkedIn.  Like Facebook, LinkedIn is growing and expanding it’s platform to provide more services.  LinkedIn is more of a professional tool for professionals to network among themselves, and is not the place to invite everyone on the planet who you can think of to be your friend (called a "connection").  It’s an effective network tool primarily because you are limited only to "connecting" with people you know well or have worked with in some capacity, whom you might recommend or introduce to another party in a friend’s network…or a friend of a friend’s network.  LinkedIn will also tell you if you know someone that knows someone you don’t yet know, demonstrating that many of us are truly just a few degrees away from almost anyone.  Of course, this feature we suspect could become a nuisance if abused, but has promise for those seeking networking among peers in their profession.  LinkedIn also offers a nifty toolbar add on that enables you to easily capture contact information from a signature box in an email and automatically add them into Outlook.  Even if you don’t use the full features of LinkedIn, the ability to easily capture your contacts and add them into Outlook is a nice add–then when people change jobs or email addresses you can more readily keep up with them, assuming they keep up their LinkedIn profile.

3) Myspace.  Still perhaps the juggernaut of social media sites, Myspace is reportedly fading in popularity among the younger set.  The onslaught of suggestive ads and friend requests from sultry escort service girls and weird ultra-creepy guys gets annoying to some of us, as does the eye-strain associated with viewing all of the awful and dizzying custom backgrounds (Facebook and LinkedIn have a more sleek, eye-friendly streamlined–some would say boring–design).  Anyone can be anyone’s friend at Myspace.  And it’s a good place to be if you have a band you want to showcase.  Myspace also offers free blogs, though the blog interfaces are ugly, compared to Typepad, Blogger, or WordPress, but are functional and can be served up via RSS feed on your Facebook site if you prefer.  Note:  if you’re a serious blogger, migrate to one of the services listed above.  Blogger, owned by Google, is free.

Want to network socially?  Try Facebook.  Want to network professionally?  LinkedIn is probably your best bet, though you can be sure Facebook will try to steal that mantle from LinkedIn in the days to come.  Want to showcase your band?  Myspace is the place for you.  Or, cover your bases and maintain a presence on all three.  Each service will now let you upload your address book so you can quickly and easily invite friends.  If you’re under 25, you’ll find a lot of your address book in Facebook and Myspace, but not LinkedIn.  If you’re 30-55 and employed in a professional capacity, you’ll find more of your address book on LinkedIn than the other two services. 

So that’s it.  Now it’s your turn: Have any of you found any of these tools helpful in your ministry, either in networking with other ministry leaders, service providers, or ministry participants?  Which ones?  Or are they just potential time wasters, as Josh Harris recently discovered during his foray into Facebook?

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