Professional Social Networking – Facebook for “grown ups”

Last night, I had dinner with a friend who told me that his MBA class had just had their 30th reunion and one of the topics they discussed was that they wanted to develop an online collaboration space where they could maintain their connections.  He asked me whether I thought that social networking sites were “ready” for private online collaboration communities.  “Do you mean Facebook for grown ups?” I asked.  And he said yes, that’s exactly what they wanted.

Once again, I feel like someone at the Wall Street Journal must be tapping in to my personal experiences because a cover story in today’s Personal Journal talks about social networking sites for professionals, such as doctors and advertising executives.  The article talks about the desire to connect with colleagues for advice and in the case of doctors, opinions or insights into treatment plans.  It also offers some advice about how to make sure that you are not giving away too much proprietary or competitive information – how to “weed out impostors.”  Weeding out impostors will still be an issue with my friend’s MBA alumn network, so being a little cautious about doing business with someone you meet immediately in a social networking site, even a private one, may not be a good idea.  However, I happen to know that his particular school is thinking about sponsoring just such a site on their own, where the school can help validate the credentials of potential members, much like does for physicians.

Social networking has clearly come of age and the great thing is that it really appears to have hit the baby boomers and the current generation of college students at the same time.  The difference for me is that while I am connected via social networking sites, I still use the telephone to connect with my colleagues and friends in real time.  My kids, however, make most of their connections via their social networking sites, which means that when they have their 30th reunions from college and grad school, they will not have to ask about creating a networking site – they’ll already be on it all the time!

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