Social Networking Opportunities

It doesn’t seem so long ago when my social life was simple. I had friends, colleagues, and some people who were both.

Now I have friends, Facebook friends, Facebook “fans,” colleagues, LinkedIn connections, followers on Twitter, people I follow on Twitter, Meetup friends, and my cell phone’s Top 10.

I get chatty e-mails from people I’ve never met, yet who are somehow in my network ... and sometimes I get e-mails and have no idea whether I know the person from the kitchen and bath industry or middle school.

Where once there was a clear delineation between business and pleasure, I now know about people’s businesses and their Bejeweled scores, their new cabinet line and their new puppy, the fight they had with their contractor and the fight they had with their teenage daughter.

That’s because social networking blurs the lines between personal and professional, creating a new kind of relationship, where everyone is a “friend,” and “TMI” (too much information) no longer signifies.

There’s a unique intimacy in these online relationships that can make customers feel more personally connected to you and your firm. However, the reverse can also occur, with this excess of information sometimes acting as a professional liability.

Welcome to the wonderful world of social networking, where you can be popular with virtual strangers (or virtual friends) without ever leaving your computer. Sometimes this can lead to new business, valuable relationships and unique marketing opportunities ... but other times it just leads to information overload, or the right information being shared with the wrong people, or the wrong information being shared with the right people.

Curious as to how other industry pros were using social networking, KBDN made dozens of calls this month. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the designers we talked with didn’t quite know what to do with all of this information either (see Market Pulse).

But when asked about their social networking wish lists, there were two clear priorities. The first was purely professional: a place where they could market themselves to potential clients, spread the word about their business and establish their professional expertise in a forum where consumers could find them.

For this, Twitter seemed to be the preferred choice, though some said they’d had some success branding themselves with a Facebook page, or by soliciting client recommendations on LinkedIn.

The other priority was a professional/social hybrid: a place to chat with like minded industry pros about trends, products, design challenges and general life stuff. As one designer explained it, “My husband doesn’t want to hear this stuff, and neither do my friends who work in other fields. But working as an independent designer, I sometimes just need to bounce an idea off someone who really gets it. And I can’t always wait until the next chapter meeting or event.”

Of course there are a plethora of social networking sites/groups out there. But the design professionals we spoke with felt that none provided the kind of designer-only professional/social community they sought – one reminiscent of the “Kitchen Bath Pros” forum that kitchen designer Susan Serra hosted up until last year.

This became the inspiration for Designer Dialogue, KBDN’s soon-to-be launched online professional networking forum (http://forums.kitchenbathdesign.com). Designer Dialogue was created to act as a virtual water cooler, a place where you can chat with other kitchen and bath professionals about things that matter to you as a designer. We hope you’ll join us in building an online community where networking is open 24/7, and shared insights and knowledge abound, whether you’re looking to find out about a new product, solve a design challenge or just blow off some steam. We’ll also be talking more about social networking there...what works, what doesn’t and why. We hope to see you there!

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