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Do Social Networks Have Any Real Value?

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Social networks are multiplying like fruit flies! Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce, 8apps, MySpace (out) Facebook, (in), Gleamd, Zaadz, Ning, and Benny Bix's fave, Dogster... whew!


"Socnets" offer a glimpse into the Internet's future .... which will increasingly include mobile communication from devices like the iPhone with small screens. That's what makes them so exciting.
The "Real Work" is changing
Social networks can look like distractions from the "real" work of business. Business is built on relationships and strengthening relationships is much of the "real work."
Sometimes socnets are just a distraction, but more often, they help increase the strength of business and social connections relationships. And I'm surely more likely to respond to an email or call from someone I'm in regular contact with than someone I don't "know."
I've been spending time building my Facebook network, and I've made Twitter a daily habbit (ok, I'm addicted) because:
o
it makes me and the really smart people I hang out with on Twitter distill ideas into their essence because each tweet can only be 140 characters
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The potential to make money from them is vast. I have already had several client inquiries and been granted direct access to several of my heroes whom I might not have met otherwise
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Twitter is, so far, free from spam and PR pitches. Or at least if there are pitches they have to be only 140 characters. And if someone is annoying, you can easily block them.
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There are already several examples of intelligent marketing use of socnets.
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My socnet guru, Steven Streight, aka Vaspers the Grate, is the bard of Twitter. I love reading the ideas, questions and links he and other active Tweeties post.
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Twitter's fun
Socnets are changing blogging, and much more
Already this form of micro-blogging has led me to use my blog for longer, more thoughtful posts (well, not always) and put the short takes and links in Twitter, or Facebook, or 8apps.
This type of change by several well-known bloggers has caused some speculation that blogging is dying. That could not be farther from the truth. Blogging is evolving, and only those who are truly dedicated to writing and sharing information are still, well, dedicated.
Some will say that expressing thoughts in 140 characters contributes to the dumbing down of our society. And they're probably right. But honey, fighting that one is a losing battle, so you might as well join in.
Shiny Object Syndrome
The A-list blog crowd is flitting around in what some call Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS) like moths to a flame. Nobody, repeat nobody, has time for active participation in six or eight social networks. As an Internet marketing strategist, I join and test socnets because I want to see if my clients should participate in or sponsor them. Until you join and look at the features and give it a test run, you can't tell which is a keeper.
Soflow, one of the early social networking sites, just announced today that it is closing. Adrants, which had a forum on Soflow for years, recently replaced that with a Ning-based ad industry forum, which seems more feature rich. So the socnet shake-out has begun. And funny thing: podcasting and Second Life seem to be so last quarter.
Many people are heavily invested in creating their LinkedIn networks, and aren't about to leave those contacts behind in any hurry. Facebook is the "in" socnet of the moment among the digerati, who will most likely abandon it a few weeks from now. It'll be a long time before the monster business networking app makes itself known.
Remember the web portals, bulletin boards and chat rooms of the 90s? They were all the next big thing once.
We've come a long way baby. And we've got a looooong way to go.


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B.L. Ochman is a social media marketing strategist for S&P 500 companies, including McGraw Hill, IBM, Cendant, and American Greetings. She publishes What's Next Blog and Ethics Crisis, where readers can confess their worst ethics transgressions and others can rate them on a scale of one to ten. She also blogs for MarketingProfs Daily Fix Blog.

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  • by gianandrea Thu Jul 19, 2007 via blog

    B.L., interesting approach. But, if we are all running from one socnet to the others, remain there few time and then leave for more interesting place, aren't we facing the real risk of getting lost? What are we running behind? Or, who are we chasing? I believe that we are going to stay where we can find real opportunities, business, relation, engagement. I saw the Twitter wave with a lot of bloggers involved, proudly exposing the widget. Now, still many people around but have not you see how many blogs removed it?

  • by Harry Hallman Thu Jul 19, 2007 via blog

    Good subject BL. You said: "Remember the web portals, bulletin boards and chat rooms of the 90s? They were all the next big thing once." I remember using bulletin boards in the 80's and a marketing one at that. I think today's current social nets are the evolution of those early forums, bulletin boards and chat rooms. In fact, many new fangled social nets include these tools. It also stands to reason that today's large nets will evolve into niche social networks just as Marketingprofs has.

  • by B.L. Ochman Thu Jul 19, 2007 via blog

    Harry - yes, absolutely. There already are several niche networks that are successful - including ITtoolbox, InfoGen, and others, and there will be more. Facebook is adding features - created by outside programmers - at a rapid clip and becoming more and more useful every day. Eventually we'll have the Google of socnets, and Facebook could turn out to be the one. Twitter is an extremely useful socnet to me and the people I hang out with there, and if they keep improving the features, add the capability for showing video and pictures, and strengthen the infrastructure, it also could be a keeper. What's important is that people want a robust and interactive way to be in constant touch with the network of people they choose.

  • by B.L. Ochman Thu Jul 19, 2007 via blog

    gianandrea -- as i said "As an Internet marketing strategist, I join and test socnets because I want to see if my clients should participate in or sponsor them. Until you join and look at the features and give it a test run, you can't tell which is a keeper." Most people are not early adopters and don't follow socnets closely, or at all. There are a couple of reasons not to have a twitter widget on your blog: you have to make your tweets public instead of "friends only" to display it on your blog; it can slow down the loading of your blog. You're right about staying where you find real engagement. And so far, for me, that's been Twitter, which, for all the reasons in the post, has been extremely helpful to my business relationships.

  • by Holly Kasun Thu Jul 19, 2007 via blog

    "Facebook is adding features - created by outside programmers - at a rapid clip and becoming more and more useful every day. Eventually we'll have the Google of socnets, and Facebook could turn out to be the one." The key here is innovation. Myspace, Friendster, web portals, bulletin boards etc. Notice how the social networks that die are not constantly and I mean constantly innovating? If Facebook is going to stay on top, they have to continue with their current model of adding new stuff all the time, otherwise people start looking for the next new thing on the web. Google has mastered innovation and looks like Facebook has figured out that model as well!

  • by B.L. Ochman Thu Jul 19, 2007 via blog

    Just saw a really great explanation of the early adopter phenomenon in Seth Godin's blog: "It's the normal progression of things--from the edgy early adopter who seeks purity and novelty above all things, all the way through the early majority and then the mass market. As the market grows, it gets, by definition, more average. Until, as Yogi Berra says, "no one goes there, it's too crowded." That's what's going on now with socnets.

  • by Graham Jones - Internet Psychologist Fri Jul 20, 2007 via blog

    Social networks online are replications of offline social groupings. Because they allow for personalisation, two-way communication, one-to-one communications and a host of other interconnectivity they are vastly different to bulletin boards, from a psychological perspective. At the moment, almost no-one is using social networking. In spite of all the media coverage and hype, 10m users of MySpace for instance is only a small percentage of all Internet users. When there is interconnectivity between the social networks, then social networking will take off.

  • by Ryan Turner Sat Jul 21, 2007 via blog

    BL, (1) It's been fascinating to watch the self-identifcation and loyalty among users which occurs through these social networks. It's almost as if the users, quite literally, rewrite the business models and marketing plans with the operators' tacit consent under the best of circumstances; or chafe under rigidly proscribed definitions and routes of activity under the worst. (2) I'm now seeking a new push among the "best of breed/new models" to actually find a new name to define what they do without using "social", "network", "community", etc. (3) Experiencing the "scene" among too many fervert users can feel like an online dating site on steroids-- with a veneer of "social" or "professional" connections. It can get rather predatory unless you are purposeful and proactive in your participation as well. (4) Personal control tools (widgets and aggregators) may be a hedge against any one site being the ultimate destination. Also may convert these and similar services (especially Skype/IM) as well as raising niche/specialized service visibility into the unified messaging directory arena people have been craving. Putting aside privacy/security concerns, of course, as always, but this may change the nature of what a lot of the larger services do.

  • by B.L. Ochman Mon Jul 23, 2007 via blog

    Graham - you could have said the same thing about blogging 10 years ago, or even 5. Early adopters also tend to be influencers. I think you will see that socnets will evolve into a very useful business tool.

  • by B.L. Ochman Mon Jul 23, 2007 via blog

    Ryan - privacy concerns are a big issue and if you read Facebook's privacy policy you might be hesitant to make it your web hub. but as you note, this is an evolutionary process and we're just on the cusp of a next phase which will take social networking up a notch.

  • by Damon Billian Tue Jul 24, 2007 via blog

    I don't think social networks are going anywhere bad. Networks I use: Facebook LinkedIn I don't use Twitter (too much noise). Facebook is problematic for other social networks because apps gives them a huge advantage over most of them. I expect that Facebook will become more useful for business contacts as time goes on (99% of my 100+ contacts are business). It took me years to get that with LinkedIn, a service that I also like a great deal (about 160+ on LinkedIn).

  • by Scott Thu Jul 26, 2007 via blog

    BL Interesting info. I'm new to all this and have been cruising myspace at a distance just to observe what goes on. What I see is a lot of chaotic energy. Rather than dismiss it as invaluable I've asked myself "How can all that random seemingly meaningless jarjon be captured & presented to a client as valuable?" Compared to something tangible, Socnets are kind of like a lava lamp with it's contents moving at light speed!!! Regardless of our social standing, wealth, ideals, ect We all have the same basic needs. Food, Shelter, and clothing. Marketing plans that capture these needs in the lava lamp environment should survive. While I would not buy a house from a company that IM'd me while I was trying to watch the race on Saturday afternoon I would however stop by McDonald's after a friday night high school football game for a free Big Mac if I were to be IM'd that offer. Of course while there I'd need fries and something to drink which I would then purchase. Because of the random fast paced "on line environment" any customer contact needs to be direct, to the point and stop the customer in thier tracks. Sure the idea is trial & error, but isn't that how at least some things in life happen?

  • by Scott Thu Jul 26, 2007 via blog

    BL Interesting info. Included are my thoughts for us marketing types. I'm new to all this and have been cruising myspace at a distance just to observe what goes on. What I see is a lot of chaotic energy. Rather than dismiss it as invaluable I've asked myself "How can all that random seemingly meaningless jarjon be captured & presented to a client as valuable?" Compared to something tangible, Socnets are kind of like a lava lamp with it's contents moving at light speed!!! Regardless of our social standing, wealth, ideals, ect, we all have the same basic needs. Food, Shelter, and clothing. Marketing plans that capture these needs in the lava lamp environment should survive. While I would not buy a house from a company that IM'd me while I was trying to watch the race on Saturday afternoon I would however stop by McDonald's after a friday night high school football game for a free Big Mac if I were to be IM'd that offer. Of course while there I'd need fries and something to drink which I would then purchase. Because of the random fast paced "on line environment" any customer contact needs to be direct, to the point and stop the customer in thier tracks. Sure the idea is trial & error, but isn't that how at least some things in life happen?

  • by Rachel Thu Jul 26, 2007 via blog

    I have already abandoned facebook when I reached my group capacity. I started on facebook through my college's group and just noticed they started a group for my city. Every once in a while someone will drag me back in. I loved the "places I've been" application. That was fun for a few minutes. It is definitely starting to grow. I'll be sure to check out the others that you have mentioned.

  • by Alexander S. Prisant Thu Jul 26, 2007 via blog

    This in an age when metrics are slapped on everything from each marketing project to every 2nd-grader. That means the "bar" is higher now. It's true socnets are "fun", "have potential" and are "great for 140 people", but their bottom line commercial value? They may not yet be ready for "prime-time" client budgets. A S Prisant, COO, Prism Ltd./Barcelona

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