The buzz is out about social media. Most decision makers have been scratched, got the itch, and feel the nudge to know more. They are asking,”How can we use social networking for our business?”

I’m glad to help. With all my experience developing, using, and seeing the potential of Social Media/Networking sites, it only made sense to focus on helping businesses promote themselves and increase their market share through these tools.

This will be a multi-article blog. In this first posting, I’m going to feature LinkedIn.com and Plaxo. Following, I’ll cover and contrast Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and others.

LinkedIn

Where I usually like to start with clients is LinkedIn.com. It’s a wonderful business networking site and I was very excited about it from the start. If you’re in business, you need to be on LinkedIn. The site started out fairly corporate-ish, with subscribers in high-tech and others who were Internet-savvy. However, their representation has expanded to categories as diverse as “Ranching” and “Religious Institutions” (wonder if the Pope’s on LinkedIn…).

Aside from the cool “Six Degrees of Separation” feel of the site (though it seems it’s more like three degrees – or less in your industry), it’s the place to find, meet, and connect with just about anyone you need to find. As a business, you want to be found, and that’s why you want to be on LinkedIn. You will be searching for people as much as they will be finding you.

The more connections you have, the more other people you can reach. For example, LinkedIn tells me that through my network of 287 people, I have access to over 5 million more people. That’s a big network! (BTW, feel free to connect with me.) This is why some folks on LinkedIn (mainly recruiters and Bus Dev folks) go nuts and invite anyone and everyone, extending their networks into four digits. So, when they post messages to their networks, they’re reaching an amazing amount of people.

What’s really great about LinkedIn, is the ability to receive and promote yourself via Recommendations from customers and colleagues. The Recommendations are posted on your profile. What’s more, your activities are monitored and reported to others in your Network, which keeps you on their minds (not good for ex’s). This can include your blog posts, recent connections, new Recommendations (for you or ones you’ve written), or if you’ve changed jobs.

LinkedIn’s groups have been growing and see quite a bit of activity. Groups allow people to network, discuss, and share relevant information on the site directly and through email updates. Lately, they’ve been a main source of both recruitment and job hunting. You can additionally post business-related “Questions” to your own network — and get answers (or not).

LinkedIn is additionally an ideal place to source for employees. They have a job posting feature where candidates can apply to postings and you can view their profile with a click. But, for free, you can search the entire LinkedIn database directly, for any type of guru that may otherwise be hard to find.

Like many social networking sites, LinkedIn is also a great place to find old friends and colleagues and stay in touch with them. You never lose their email address (and vice versa) because LinkedIn regularly tests emails. You can also add multiple addresses to your profile.

Plaxo

Plaxo started out as a fancy online address book, where keeping in contact with friends and associates was made easier. It didn’t have a lot of features and had a corporate look and feel to it (well, the look is still simple).

Since then (and via social media competition), they’ve been successively adding more and more social networking features that are slowly giving it a more “personal” touch, releasing it from that corporate feel that LinkedIn still retains. Examples are status updates (“Pulse Streams”) that can include blogs, photos, videos, links, or polls; a calendar; photo albums; Fan Pages. They also have groups, but they don’t seem to get the traffic or popularity as on LinkedIn. Unlike LinkedIn, Plaxo allows categorization of connections, which I like (LinkedIn Wish List!). For jobs, Plaxo uses SimplyHired and postings aren’t as integrated into their site as well as on LinkedIn.

Unfortunately, Nexo hasn’t fully gained the same level of use as LinkedIn. Plaxo’s social media features have grown quite a bit, but they still don’t seem to get the same buzz as the other social networking sites. Their focus is limited to one’s current network more than an extended (no degrees of separation here). Nor do I get a good sense of where they are going. They are clearly trying to compete with the Facebook’s and even though they’ve garnered a decent crowd, their competition is tough unless they can pull away users from other social networking sites.

Summary

Maintaining multiple profiles on different sites can take some work and some duplication is unavoidable. Inviting friends to what originally seemed like two business networking sites seemed redundant. But since Plaxo has expanded their features and their search is still focused on one’s immediate network, it remains to be seen whether they will take a more personal or business slant in regards to networking and promotion (I’m betting personal). For now, I recommend creating profiles and networks on both sites so you are visible and “find-able.” However, for promotion and market expansion, my advice would be to focus your business networking on LinkedIn.

Of course, the nuances of networking and promotion aren’t quite as simple as summarized above, but this will give you a good place to start — just the place I have my clients begin.