Social Websites Help Friends Connect, Businesses Grow

From middle schoolers to college students, MySpace and Facebook are simply apart of every day life.

"You get on it you're like, 'Oh my gosh, this is great,'" says college student Cocoa Collins.

"You feel the peer pressure... you need a MySpace," says Rachel Williams.

"You get really addicted to it," says college student Evan Magers.

MySpace and Facebook are, arguably, two of most popular online sites for teens and young adults to socialize.

"You meet new friends or maybe you moved away and you want to meet old friends. It's really a network where you stay connected," says recent high school graduate Patrice Coleman.

Facebook was originally created for college and university students, but now, like MySpace, anyone with an e-mail address can sign up and log in.

Teens at the Boys and Girls Club said they were connected. Some of the middle schoolers who log on say they have two MySpace pages. Users share whatever they want friends to know about themselves through personal profiles, photos and videos. Through MySpace and Facebook users email, chat and keep online diaries or blogs.

"I use my Facebook because I'm going off to school. Usually, I use mine to meet new friends and see what their interests are. They might end up being my roommate or we might end up having class, and I can get to know them a little better," says Coleman.

No matter where you live, go to school or what your interests are, you'll probably find a friend on Facebook, or catch up with old ones.

"For me, I'm not one of those people who's real good at keeping in contact with friends, because it requires talking on the phone for hours and hours and hours.  I can say something as simple as, 'Hey, just wanted to know how you're doing and you're in my thoughts.' And that's why I like it," says Collins.

"People think the only people utilizing the services are maybe teenagers or even younger than that and that's really not true," says Kimberly Nastasi.

Nastasi used MySpace to help launch Coast Young Professionals or CYP. It's a new organization under the Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce created to develop young leaders on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Nastasi says MySpace helped grow the group.

"When we started this group, we didn't have a budget. We needed to reach a wide-spread audience across the Gulf Coast.  It's been a valuable tool and resource to CYP," says Nastasi.

Now more than 90 members strong, Nastasi says CYP continues to grow as members post bulletins and share them with friends through MySpace. Members have found new ways to use MySpace for their professional pursuits.

"Coast Young Professional members that have signed on to the MySpace are using it to market their businesses," says Nastasi.

Nastasi points to members like Rebecca Strickland who use MySpace as a marketing tool for her store. She owns Panache, a clothing, shoes and accessories boutique in Gulfport.

"I upload actual merchandise I have in my store. People will either ask me if I have their size or do I have something else they're looking for simply by messaging me on the MySpace.   I think it's great for men who want to buy things for women and they're not sure what to do. They can jot me a message and say, 'Hey, I'm looking for something for my wife or my girlfriend.'  It's just kind of discreet as well," says Strickland.

Strickland says MySpace helps get customers in the door.

"Probably about 30 percent, it contributes to my ideal sales a month. I'm just really thankful I'm able to use this tool and use it toward promoting my business as well," says Strickland.

Whether promoting a business, creating an organization or just logging on to send a friend a quick hello, Facebook and MySpace keep people connected.

Since young people spend so much time on MySpace and Facebook, these sites are now a part of the political culture. Call it the cyber-campaign trail - presidential candidates from Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney all have MySpace pages. Obviously, the candidates are targeting younger voters to get their messages out.

But for all the hype and good things about these online connections, there's also some danger. It's not just friends checking out what you post online, police say criminals are logged in too.

Thursday night on WLOX News at 10pm, Krystal Allan continues her special report with a look at what users and parents need to know about staying safe while signed on.