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Barry MacQuarrie

Is There a Social Network in Your Future?

Truths and myths debunked.

January 8, 2009
by Barry MacQuarrie, CPA

I think that we, as CPAs, often get a bad rap for being introverted. I know plenty of CPAs who enjoy networking with their peers at the local chamber of commerce, during golf outings and at fundraisers. These traditional networking activities provide business professionals a means to meet others and develop business opportunities.

The networking landscape is changing and it’s happening fast! Those of us in the over-30 crowd have finally discovered what our kids have known for some time. You can make friends, share ideas, find employees and even develop business opportunities by using any number of online social networks.

This article divulges the benefits of social networking, discusses the popular networks and provides some precautions you might need to know before you venture online.

The ABCs of Social Networking

According to Wikipedia, “A social network service focuses on building online communities of people who share interests and/or activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others.”

Further, dictionary.com defines social networking as “the use of a Web site to connect with people who share personal or professional interests, place of origin, education at a particular school, etc.”

If you have teenagers, you may know a thing or two about social networking. You may have even heard your child say something like, “Sorry, I don’t have time to cut the grass, I’m Facebooking.” Facebook and other social networks are extremely popular and are changing the way that we interact with others.

According to Nielsen Online, Myspace.com ranks as the top site in their “Top 10 Social Networking Site as for September 2008 (U.S., Home and Work).” It is interesting to note that their survey shows Facebook and LinkedIn had growth rates over a one-year period of 116 percent and 193 percent respectively while Myspace.com grew by only one percent over the same period.

Since the beginning of the social-networking phenomenon, the focus has been on connecting with our friends to share ideas, opinions and memories. The popular social networking sites are:

MySpace

The site offers personal profiles, network of friends and online communities. The site is a popular outlet for the music and entertainment industries.

Facebook

According to their site, “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life.” The site offers personal profiles, photo galleries, e-mail, groups and applications.

LinkedIn

This site is focused on connecting business professionals and helping them develop business opportunities and build business relationships.

Plaxo

An online social-networking site that focuses on hosting address books and updating contact information. They allow users to connect with other users and host photo albums.

Twitter

This site allows user to communicate by frequently answering the question, “What are you doing?”

A World of Social Networking Opportunities

People often dismiss social networks as “a place just for kids” or “just a big waste of time.” While these are legitimate concerns, there are several benefits of social networking that just might help you and your business. In my opinion, the benefits include:

  1. The new way to communicate. The younger generations are using Facebook on a daily basis to communicate with their family and friends. They post pictures, share their whereabouts and report their activities. It’s all there in real time. Between text messages and Facebook, it seems that e-mail and instant messaging are becoming old-school technologies according to the younger generations.
  2. Reconnect with fellow workers. Most of us have changed jobs once or twice. When you leave a job, you often lose contact with fellow employees at your old job. Using social networks, you can reconnect with people with whom you have worked. Social networks provide an opportunity to learn about their work and personal experiences.
  3. Publicize your company. Companies and associations can create a presence using social networks. They can post information about their company, host discussion boards and advertise employment opportunities.
  4. Research potential employees. In the same way you might use a background check, human resources departments are using social-networking sites to learn about potential employees.
  5. Find new business opportunities. As social networking evolves, individuals and corporations will use them to develop business and refer their friends.

Be Careful

As a CPA, I have been trained to be skeptical. Although, I have started to embrace the world of social networking, it has not happened without much caution and skepticism. Borrowing a line from Sergeant Esterhaus on Hill Street Blues, I would caution you “Hey, be careful out there.” If and when you start to use social networks, you should tread lightly and cautiously. It is up to you to protect yourself.

  • First and foremost, if you have young kids, I strongly encourage you to know everything they are doing on these social networks. Unfortunately, there are evil people that frequent the Internet and social networks looking for unsuspecting kids. Find out if your kids have a Facebook or MySpace account. Ask them if they will share their usernames and passwords with you. Their reply will tell you a lot!
  • Before becoming an active user, you should learn everything you can about the security features of Facebook, LinkedIn etc. This will allow you to secure your personal information and help you teach your kids how to be safe while online. If you’re uncomfortable with these technologies, ask a college-aged nephew or niece to help. I’d bet they know a thing or two about Facebook and would be willing to help you protect your young kids. This advice should also be applied to your children’s use of e-mail, instant messaging and online chat services, such as Skype or GoogleTalk.
  • Consider having two Facebook accounts. Use one with your family and friends. The other account can be used to share with your business contacts. This takes a little more work but will allow you to keep some level of “personal” in your personal life!
  • Be careful with regard to the information you post about yourself. Don’t forget that potential employers, fellow employees and business partners may be looking.
  • Finally, be aware that social networking can be addictive. Like anything new, you will be enamored with the large amount of information that is available once you start connecting with others.

Embracing the Change

Social networks are changing the way that we interact with those around us. As the over-30 crowd becomes more involved, these sites will adapt to meet our needs. Companies will start to involve their employees, customers, referral sources and vendors in their social-networking groups. Many will use existing social networks, like Facebook and LinkedIn, while others will start their own.

Social networks can be a great tool when used properly. I would encourage you to learn about these new technologies and cautiously start to embrace the change. Look for ways that you can use social networks to benefit you and your company.

I look forward to meeting you online!

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Barry MacQuarrie, CPA, is the Director of Technology at KAF Financial Group. MacQuarrie has extensive experience working with CPA firm technologies and expertise in workflow, process improvement, disaster recovery planning, security and paperless office technologies.