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Are your social networks too scattered?

On Plurk, my friend Kellye Crane pointed me to a social map that Brian Solis of PR 2.0 did for his online presence - both the places where he maintains a presence, and those where he's simply in touch or aware. Check out his post about it here.

So naturally, it got my gears turning. Since social media is so much of what I do and breathe every day, I'm pondering where the perfect fulcrum is to balance having a social presence with being so completely decentralized that you can't give any one community it's due. Brian says:

The truth is that we are embracing new tools because they're are either intriguing and fascinating to us and/or because those within our social graph are also adopting them to stay connected and participate in online conversations.

We are responsible for the decentralization of our content and our attention.

Some individuals are using things like FriendFeed to aggregate all of their sites and try to stay abreast of them all. Personally, that removes the unique elements of each community and seems to make participating more about me than contributing to the community, which kind of goes against my grain. And I don't see companies making use of FriendFeed to connect with individuals (please let me know if you know otherwise, I'd certainly be interested!).

Then there are tools like that help you post a singular update to many networks. But again, this takes away some of the interaction quality to me because, in my case, it wouldn't be as natural to hang around and participate in the (hopefully) ensuing conversation.

I haven't yet participated actively on YouTube, StumbleUpon, or Mixx even though I have a presence in those places, if nothing else to understand what they're about in basic terms. Obviously, I've barely scratched the surface. And I haven't even touched many other sites at all - ooVoo or Qik or Utterz. In some cases, I avoid something that seems like a new-but-not-distinctly-different iteration of something I already use with success, like Twitter or LinkedIn.

Shift gears away from my personal experience, and put it in business perspective. Where are my potential clients online? Where are your business' potential customers and clients? How are they using these tools, or are they? Is this all a fishbowl, and are we swimming around just running into the same people in different places?

My savvy and always insightful friend Connie Reece put it this way:

Amber, yes the "right" networks are the ones that will be most profitable for your business, and that will be where your customers are.
Takes a lot of research and careful consideration to find exactly what those are, sure. But to me, this is a critical aspect of making social media strategy a viable, effective part of your overall communications plans. Many of these networks are most familar to the early adopters, or people who focus on this space for a living. But is this where the critical mass of customers is?

Taking the time to understand your customers and how they're using the web to engage with businesses cannot be underestimated. Not every social site or network is going to be right for every business. And participating in one or two at a really engaged, invested level is much more important than having a face everywhere but a personality nowhere. It's also important to recognize that just because I enjoy participating in a social community, it doesn't mean that I'm connecting with a business audience of potential customers. They may be somewhere else entirely.

So what say you? How do you draw the line, and what criteria do you use to make sure your investments of time and effort in social media are paying off? Do you have different criteria for your personal involvement and that of your business? I'd love to hear about your approach.

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