Social Networking: Viable Business Tool or Waste of Time?

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Social networking has risen to great heights over the past couple of years, with sites like MySpace and Facebook becoming some of the most trafficked sites on the Web. But there have been some growing pains along the way and some of those seem to be catching up to the social networking craze.

There are problems with spam (via email, bulletins or comments), unsolicited friend requests and hacked accounts, all of which can be damaging to a brand or business. Security and use of private data have become top concerns. Facebook's debacle of an advertising scheme proved that social networking is still figuring out how to take advantage of user data. It's also been revealed that Facebook keeps user data long after a user deletes an account, unless a lengthy and less-than-obvious process is followed. More recently, Bill Gates (after investing $240 million in the network) quit Facebook after receiving thousands of mortgage finance offers and even more requests from non-friends. When a top investor quits ... what is that saying? And today, The Wall Street Journal reports that Owen Van Natta, chief revenue officer at Facebook and a key part of that $240 million investment from Gates, is resigning. Is social networking fatigue setting in?

It takes a tremendous amount of time to be truly active in these networks, especially if you want to belong to more than one of them. Adding to the problem is the time required to delete unwanted friend requests, spam messages and comments, etc. But unless you are consistently active, the networks have little to offer.

There is help on the horizon. Google's Open Social project and services like PageOnce (in limited beta testing) promise to deliver a viable way to keep up with your networks without having to spend an inordinate amount of time visiting each site and managing each profile. But is it all worth it? Is it better to spend your valuable time spreading your brand around the networks (it is a huge audience), or taking time to further your brand on its own merit? We would like to know how our audience feels. Please take a second to vote below.
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