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Whatever your interests, on the Internet you’re guaranteed to find a network of people who share them. Music, free software, Goth culture? No problem. Increasingly, professionals are also finding their way to social networking sites such as Facebook.com. But do these sites really provide value for professionals? “The answer lies in the connective power of social communities for people who don’t have their own,” says Claire Celsi of The Integer Group Midwest, a marketing and public relations agency in Des Moines, Iowa.
Many social sites have a business life of their own–and sites such as LinkedIn.com are beefing up their offerings with premium services. With Facebook, new features like “Marketplace,” and oldies like “group-creation” help users market their products and services to a wide and varied audience.
For entrepreneurs, these sites provide access to individuals who come with their networks built-in. “These networks already exist [and because of this,] we can reach people all over the world,” says Omar Ellis, 26, co-founder of Burden Clothing (www.my space.com/burdenclothing), a New York City-based fashion company. The payoff: “It has helped draw traffic to our main site.” And traffic, handled right, usually translates into profits.
Here’s a peek at what other networking sites are offering.
The Site: LinkedIn.com (www.linkedin.com)
Lowdown: LinkedIn is focused on developing professional relationships and networks. The site boasts more than 15 million professionals in about 150 industries.
Big Bang: The “Answers” feature lets you ask a business-related question and get responses from LinkedIn “experts.”
Bust: Setup is time-consuming; the interface is boring.
The Site: Ryze.com (www.ryze.com)
The Lowdown: Ryze.com is a smaller community (500,000) offering some of the same services as LinkedIn.com.
Big Bang: Video tutorials help you set up and customize networks.
Bust: You have to upgrade to a paid subscription to contact members who are not in your network.
Costs: Free; $10 a month for Gold membership, $20 a month for Platinum
Editor’s Choice: The Site: Xing.com (www.xing.com)
The Lowdown: Xing.com is a professional networking site with an international focus, boasting members from 190 countries.
Big Bang: Go mobile with Xing for cell phones, PDAs, and Blackberry devices.
Bust: Premium access costs extra.
Cost: Free; premium membership starts at $7.91 a month