There's a lot of hype today around the term "social networking." But what exactly does it mean? And do busy moms really have time to participate? First, a definition: Social networking is an online destination where you can create a profile and build relationships with others (also known as "friends"), often based on common interests.
We recommend these mom-friendly social networks to get you started. Check them out to see which fits you best:
For moms in particular, these sites provide the opportunity to connect with other mothers for friendship, support, and advice. It's the perfect place to kvetch, commiserate, or rejoice! Here's how you can jump on the e-bandwagon:
Find a group. If you already belong to a neighborhood moms club, find out how your group connects online. They may provide discussion forums, online event management, and rosters, all of which can save you time when connecting with other members.
If you're not part of a group yet, jump-start your mommy network with an online search. Spend a few minutes on Craigslist.com or a search engine like Google, and you're bound to find a listing for a local parenting group that grabs your interest. With a ton of results at your fingertips, your best bet is to focus on a group that offers both online and in-person resources. Different from other social networks, which entertain users with mystery pokes, virtual flowers, and flashy artwork, local moms' networks that have a Web presence provide rare opportunities to grow virtual connections into enduring, real-life rapport.
Get support. A good social network can provide essential support to new moms, who often struggle with feelings of isolation and anxiety. Reach out and find a network with active online discussion forums, and you'll unearth words of wisdom from other mothers who share your challenges, curiosity, and joy. Forums are available at all hours, offering advice on nursing a newborn, reassurance when your child is sick, toy recalls, and more.
Personalize it. Do you love incessant beeps and pings on your PDA or having an e-mail inbox of unread messages that never seems to dip below 100? Or are you someone who prefers to read things quickly on a Web page and move on? No matter what communication mode suits your fancy, you can choose a social network that gives you choices. You can plug into a steady stream of messages, receive handpicked updates via e-mail, or take a more refreshingly minimalist approach to your inbox.
After you've set online preferences for your social network, take a moment to define your own personal tastes. Some people prefer to speak up in a forum before attending a group function. Others shy away from the online discussions, instead checking the network's calendar for an upcoming playdate or Moms' Night Out. Most mommy networks have open policies about participating, and you'll quickly find a niche that suits you.
Protect your privacy. When you take part in a social network, only divulge as much as you feel comfortable sharing online. Look for a network that allows you to show important contact information to your friends while hiding it from nonmembers and prying eyes. After you've signed up for a network, do an online search for your name and see if anything shows up in the public results.
The technology supporting your group should also respect your privacy. Make sure your network displays only tasteful, family-friendly ads, prevents spam, and refrains from disclosing your information to third parties. These practices go a long way toward ensuring that you have a fun and safe experience online.