[IMGCAP(1)]Social networking sites come and go.

Some last for a while, then wither away. (MySpace anyone?) Others seem to be in it for the long haul. While they may do it in slightly different ways, they all accomplish pretty much the same thing. When it comes right down to it, each one allows you to interact with different people and companies and catch up on the latest news, right? But what if you aren’t interested in the “different” aspect and want something a little more targeted?

Industry-specific social networking sites are beginning to spring up on the Internet, and they are gaining traction. Using LinkedIn for business networking is great, but you do have to wade through a lot of different updates and feeds to find things specific to your industry or navigate to your groups’ pages to see if anything new has popped up there. Industry-specific social networking sites allow you to interact with professionals from your industry and are focused on news and events that affect your business directly.

Because of this, these sites may be less distracting than regular social networking sites. You don’t have to hunt through pictures of your niece’s birthday party or your mom’s recipes in order to find that article your coworker suggested. For those that aren’t keen on using social networking yet, this could be a great opportunity for them to get their feet wet, since they’ll be able to participate in a “safer” environment where they are knowledgeable and comfortable.

What got me on this topic is the fact that the people who created iShade, the new social networking site for the accounting industry, approached me a few weeks ago. Officially launched in late May, it is targeted solely at accountants and the people that serve them, which is why I was on the list. In some ways, it’s similar to LinkedIn, in that you create both individual and firm profiles, add regular updates, join groups and connect with others on the site. They also let you create an online ad and marketplace profile for your firm for free. Where they really provide value is by offering onsite and online CPE courses. So the site goes beyond social networking and becomes a place where accountants can get the CPE they need to keep their licensing.

I think it’s got great potential, but it will only work if people join and participate. Like any networking effort, it can’t be the place where only vendors gather (admittedly, I’m one of them). But the benefits of this site should draw social media savvy accountants first, and then hopefully they will continue expanding to those who think Twitter is silly.

So how many of these industry-specific sites are currently up and running? I’ve found a few that look pretty interesting:

•    Accounting - iShade.com (http://www.ishade.com/)
•    Finance & Insurance – linkedFA.com (http://www.linkedfa.com/)
•    Architecture – Architizer.com (http://www.architizer.com/en_us/)
•    Real Estate – Glozal.com (http://glozal.com/)
•    Small Business – Biznik.com (http://biznik.com/)

One more that should be mentioned, and this one is something special, is http://www.CDSocial.com, a networking site for Funeral Directors. My first reaction was, “Wha…really?” But they need to network, too, and it’s a growing industry. You learn something new every day.

So is this the future of social networking? Do you think people will begin to navigate toward these sites versus continuing to use sites like LinkedIn, or will they use them in addition to the big ones? I’d love to hear your thoughts and, if you know of other industry-specific social networking sites, add them in the comments section for everyone to see.

Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk is president of BBR Marketing (www.bbrmarketing.com), a firm that provides marketing strategy, services and tactical implementation for professional services providers. Marketing services is vastly different than marketing products, and the experts at BBR Marketing understand how to help accountants, attorneys, engineers and other consultants reach their audiences and differentiateand growtheir firms.

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