If you haven't paid attention to the new social media, you're doing yourself a disservice. Just as email was a game-changer in the 1980s and the internet revolutionized society in the 1990s, social media is making a huge impact on the way people work and interact today. Personally, I was skeptical about social networking until some good friends persuaded me to give it a trial run. It seemed like a great way to dither away some valuable time, but I didn't see the business value in the whole proposition until I tried it.
My situation might be atypical, since I'm what the experts call a "digital nomad" working from the home office, customer sites, and the occasional Wi-Fi-enabled airport lounge. However, I've found that social media has enabled me to build a strong and supportive community, enjoy some virtual but informative water cooler talk, and utilize a large number of other like-minded professionals for the occasional technical question or sounding board.
In my case, I use a few social networking sites, each offering a different set of values. Facebook is probably the most popular social networking site today. It combines a full multimedia experience, where you can share pictures, videos, blog posts, web links, and your latest updates, with strong social networking with friends and acquaintances. Many people link with anyone who asks to connect with them, but I (and many others) only link with people I actually know and have met in person. You can join groups, like PASS and SQL Server fan groups, to meet others interested in databases for sharing tips and resources. I've enjoyed seeing some fabulous photos taken by other SQL Server experts on their world travels, learning friends' birthdays and anniversaries, and asking the occasional question.
For those of a more professional bent, LinkedIn and Plaxo are both good choices. They enable you to share contact information and professional details between members. They're excellent job search tools and strongly amplify your ability to connect with people in similar lines of work, industries or professions. You can also share contact details and synchronize your Outlook contacts with your contacts databases on these websites. A couple of travel-specific sites are also worth mentioning. You can build a network of people who are aware of your travel plans via TripIt or Dopplr, and even connect those travel plans to your Facebook account. This enables you to easily organize ad hoc meetings with friends and colleagues who, coincidentally, are in town the same time you are.
The newest, fastest growing social media service in town is Twitter. Twitter is an addictive micro-blogging site that allows you to post up to 140-character messages at a time to all of the people who "follow" you. It's sort of like an instant message party-line. I'm amazed by the great conversations and sense of community that has developed among SQL Server users. Wondering who to follow? For a great Twitter directory of the best-known SQL Server gurus, check out the listing at http://sqlserverpedia.com/wiki/Twitter. While you can use the Twitter website to send your messages (called tweets), most people use a client tool, such as my favorite, Tweetdeck.
Twitter has a number of add-ons making it even more powerful. Twitpoll enables you to conduct informal Twitter polls. TweetReach calculates how many people have seen your last tweet, URL, or hashtag. And TwitterSearch helps you find people and topics of interest
Even if you don't intend to post much in the various social media sites, I encourage you to create your own accounts and start connecting with others. At the very least, you can see what everyone else is up to and learn from their experiences.