A social network service focuses on building online communities of people who share interests and activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others. Most social network services are web based and provide a variety of ways for users to interact, such as E-mail and instant messaging services.
Social networking has created powerful new ways to communicate and share information. Social networking websites are being used regularly by millions of people, and it now seems that social networking will be an enduring part of everyday life. The main types of social networking services are those which contain directories of some categories (such as former classmates), means to connect with friends (usually with self-description pages), and recommender systems linked to trust. Popular methods now combine many of these, with MySpace and Facebook being the most widely used in North America.
Social networks connect people at low cost; this can be beneficial for entrepreneurs and small businesses looking to expand their contact base. These networks often act as a customer relationship management tool for companies selling products and services. Companies can also use social networks for advertising in the form of banners and text ads. Since businesses operate globally, social networks can make it easier to keep in touch with contacts around the world.
One example of social networking being used for business purposes is LinkedIn.com, which aims to interconnect professionals. It claims to have more than 20 million registered users from 150 different industries.
Professional networking sites function as online meeting places for business and industry professionals. Other sites are bringing this model for niche business professional networking.
Virtual communities for business allow individuals to be accessible. People establish their real identity in a verifiable place. These individuals then interact with each other or within groups that share common business interests and goals. They can also post their own user generated content in the form of blogs, pictures, slide shows and videos. Like a social network, the consumer essentially becomes the publisher.
A professional network is used for the business to business marketplace. These networks improve the ability for people to advance professionally, by finding, connecting and networking with others. Business professionals can share experiences with others who have a need to learn from similar experiences.
The traditional way to interact is face-to-face. Interactive technology makes it possible for people to network with their peers from anywhere, at anytime in an online environment. Professional network services attract, aggregate and assemble large business-focused audiences by creating informative and interactive meeting places.
Adapted from Wikipedia