First though, let's define exactly what Social Networking and Social Media are.
Social Networking is a way of communicating via the Internet with individuals and groups of people who share a common interest. Social Media refers to the Internet tools that allow us to participate in Social Networking. These are part of something we call Web 2.0, which refers to the way people behave on the Internet, focusing mainly on collaboration and interactive web technologies rather than static web pages. If you are still thinking of the Internet as an online encyclopedia or dictionary, think again! Social media has forever changed the Internet landscape!
For those of you who are not yet converted, let me try and convince you of the value of social media by answering the question "Why would someone use social media and social networking in their genealogical research?" Here are a few important reasons:
- It increases the speed and efficiency of communicating with others. Remember the days of handwriting letters, trying to track down mailing addresses, then waiting weeks for a reply? Contacting almost anyone, anywhere in the world today is as easy as sending an e-mail or visiting a website and posting a query, and can often bring about almost immediate results.
- It's about creating "communities" made up of individuals from around the world who share a common interest and is the easiest and most efficient way of finding and collaborating with other researchers who are working on the same area, the same surname, or the same ancestral lines as you are.
- It is a great way to find out about and locate new resources for research as they become available, many of which are now digitized and online.
- It is a great place to connect with other genealogists and experts who are willing to share their recommendations and opinions. Some of them may even live in the areas that you are researching, and know hard-to-find facts about local places that you might never discover otherwise.
- It's a inexpensive and time-saving way to grow in your research skills and knowledge, without having to leave your house to attend expensive conferences and seminars.
- Social Media is a great way to share the results of your research with others. One of the very things that makes social media work is that it is based on user-generated content and user-participation. Sharing your research this way has the potential to reach the greatest number of people, and often brings back loads of information to you in return.
- Many libraries and genealogy-related organizations and societies use social media to update users on what they are doing, conferences they are sponsoring, or other newsworthy items. It's one of the best ways to keep abreast of new developments in the field.
- Social Media sites provide a great place to organize and store large multimedia files and documents, as well as the ability to share them with family members in an simple, cost effective way.
- If you are involved in a local genealogical society or organization, social media provides a wonderful method for getting the word out about upcoming events.
- And last, it's just plain fun!
Because there is so much out there, I would suggest that you start out slowly, and remember that you only need to use the media that is useful to you. There is an excellent resource to help you get started, that was developed by the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. It can be accessed by clicking on the following link https://fch.ldschurch.org/WWSupport/23things/. There you will find twenty three small "steps", each focusing on a different method of social networking. My suggestion would be to pick just one step at a time to work on, and when you've mastered it, try another one. Happy networking!