Getting into the Swing of Social Networking

The ease by which young children use an iPad should be a huge cue that social networking is here to stay, at least until the next great communication tool revolution.Need a reason to be on social networks? Look at a 2-year-old manipulate an iPad.

My grandson, Hudson, who just turned two, looks as if he were born with a tablet in his hands. He knows how to use the screen to scroll and shift pages. He understands how to activate a program or game. He intuitively realizes the iPad is his electronic gateway to a world of interesting stuff.

If you think this is just idle child's play, consider that 5-year-old grandson Hunter is using an iPad app to draw up plays for his midget flag football team. Or 6-year-old Ava who creates her own characters and stories on an iPad.

These kids aren't closeted away. They run, play and scream all day long. They go to school or pre-school. The iPad isn't their life. It is just a life tool they use as if by second nature.

I'm old enough to remember the kvetching that occurred when television overtook radio as THE medium for news, entertainment and family circles. TV wasn't the same. Maybe, in retrospect and in light of some of today's offerings, it wasn't even better. But the transition was real. People with radios started watching television.

Interestingly, the introduction of television forced a rethinking of radio, which remains strong today, just in different, segmented forms. The advent of the worldwide web is causing the same disruption of television as it caused radio. Adjustments were necessary. That's why late adopters need to get over their qualms and plunge into social networking.

Data suggests the fastest growing segment of new social network users are older adults. Don't be confused by the stat. Virtually every younger person is already part of the digital revolution. Now older people are finding out what they are missing — from opportunities to engage in online chats with grandchildren to robust exchanges with their own peers.

What is more mind-blowing is the exponential growth in online shopping and banking and the rise of mobile digital devices that make information and services uber-available.

Reluctant businesses and nonprofits, often cowed by leaders who don't understand or like social networking, miss out on opportunities to build strong online communities, offer targeted discounts and increase sales and reach. They fail to engage in conversations with critics and fans. They are AWOL on thought leadership to potentially important new constituencies.

Establishing a social networking presence isn't a walk in the park. It takes forethought, strategy and energy. But it is quickly shifting from an intriguing opportunity to a business necessity. The water won't get any more shallow by waiting to plunge in.