How Many Social Networks Are Enough?

When Groucho Marx famously told the Friars that he “didn’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member” he notified them via telegram.

If Groucho were on e-mail today he would be spammed by invitations from friends, acquaintances and total strangers to join dozens of social networking sites. I picture him rolling his eyes at the pointlessness of belonging to clubs that don’t serve cocktails or fat cigars.

Unlike Groucho, I am checking out multiple social networking sites as part of a careers research project. One observation: Social networking sites are often the first place where professionals actively manage relationships that can advance their careers.

It’s no secret that quite often in life who you know is more important than what you know. These sites help automate the former so efficiently that I would unhesitatingly recommend them to everyone.

Choosing the right social networking site to advance your career isn’t a serious problem. If one doesn’t pan out, you can always try another, perhaps more or less specialized one.

The biggest problem is a lack of differentiation between the sites, although each has its own peculiar rules of engagement. There’s no getting around the fact that it’s boring to set up a profile on multiple sites.

For some social butterflies the process of amassing contacts, especially experts or old friends, is a bit addictive.

Chuck Hester, corporate communications director at iContact in North Carolina, has gathered more than 1,800 connections on Linked-in. I’m one of them. “I constantly receive invitations from Linked-in contacts that are on XING, Blue Chip Expert and other social networks, but my standard response is I only have time for Linked-in and Facebook,” says Hester.

To understand why Hester uses two networks it helps to know that his 22-year-old boss, CEO Ryan Allis also uses Facebook. Apart from that, says Hester, “What I look for in a social network is the value of the connections, the ability to connect with like-minded individuals I can help and can help me in business and in my personal life.”

Makes sense, but of course time is an enormous consideration for Hester and everyone else. If the sites offer similar benefits, such as access to recruiters in your field, access to your alumni network, or people to date, why bother with multiple sites?

B. Lee Jones, a CIO in the Bay Area who found his most recent job on Linked-in, has grown his network of connections to more than 1,600. He followed me over to Xing and then invited me to join him on a new network called Doostang. I’m tempted to up the ante by inviting him to join me on eCademy or maybe Orkut.

“Do I want to go through the pain and suffering of building up on another site to that kind of level?” wonders Jones. “It can be fairly consuming to add people and maintain it.”

Though they seem similar, social networking sites aren’t interchangeable, meaning that joining one site doesn’t open you up to others. Don’t be afraid to try something completely different – like an online club that isn’t your usual fare. Sometimes a new set of connections is the perfect way to broaden your horizon.