in Social Networking

It’s not about who you know…

Holiday conversations with friends have led me to consider the idea of social networking and how sites like these continue to do nothing other than help people who already know each other find ways to connect and stay in touch, rather than serving as mechanisms for likeminded people to find each other and interact in meaningful ways.

Now I know lots of people who use these sites as a way to meet folks, but I’m not among them. In part because there is a “creep” factor involved in the process. That is, you don’t want to be a creep. When you look at LinkedIn versus say Facebook, the contrast is stark. In part because of the sort of professional nature of one versus the other. You can usually add someone you meet at a party on Facebook, but unless you’ve had a conversation with them, adding them on LinkedIn probably isn’t as likely to happen.

So again, the question is, “What’s the point?” As these sites scramble to monetize and find a way to keep themselves relevant as the next biggest, baddest thing gets developed, you just have to wonder if these latent trading card profile sites are really going to outlive their value (if they haven’t already.)

I’ve had a ton of interesting, informative and pleasant conversations with folks who I’ve met via friends. But I’ve yet to meet someone on a social network who I didn’t already meet on my own either in real life or via some professional network on the web. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, maybe these sites are just around to help us keep up with our long lost friends or connections we make at different points in our lives.

But I have a hard time believing there is a business model embedded in that.

The bottom line is, when you’re meeting people you don’t know, they’re expecting that you’re either trying to sell them something they don’t want or you’re trying to proposition them in some way. I think that’s the model that most sites right now don’t seem interested in employing.

Facebook is too busy trying to turn itself into a platform, others are attempting to burnish out a model that allows them to stay afloat in a marketplace that’s competitive and isn’t waiting around for them to get their acts together.

It’s just something of a joke that it was easier to meet people online in the 1990s than it is now. I suppose it’s easier for those of us who find ourselves in professional settings, especially within a niche. But for those generalists among us, it’s a much more of a challenge.

  1. Well maybe they know what networking is, but to them, that’s scary. They’d rather do what’s familiar and so, to many of them, it’s way better to say…talk to someone they met in 5th grade and reconnect than to meet someone they met at a conference once or talked to in an elevator or a friend of a friend who has been recommended to them, because that might be “weird.” As a result, they’ll fail to get the sort of impact they’re wanting from these networks.

    Another complaint are folks who graduate from college and lose their networks when they move to different parts of the country or stay home and are just surrounded by the same people they’ve always known. Do the existing tools REALLY help people who don’t have the time to the web as most of us do, to really leverage them to their benefit? I’d say no.

    I think you’re right about “time” though, that it’ll take time that and that we’re still in the nascent stages of all of this stuff and it’ll continue to evolve, get refined and be more effective as a result.

  2. Good provocative posting.

    Is it possible that the phenomenon you describe is due to the fact that people don’t understand what “networking” is? Or how to do it? I’ve heard someone say he was deleting his LinkedIn profile because he’d been connecting with people like crazy, but after three months he hadn’t received a single job lead (Could just as easily have been “sales lead,” same issue, right?). And it cracks me up to see people madly connecting with everyone in their own office or company. Yeah, that will expand your network dramatically!

    Facebook is similar: people connecting because they can, not because they ought to. “I knew you in 5th grade, let’s connect.” Why? We didn’t even like each other. Et cetera.

    So I blame a lack of awareness on what networking is, how it works, and what it is about networks that can potentially help you solve problems. And the solution to that is probably just TIME – it will be a while before most people have a lot of experience with actually using a network to get something done. Even if the separate brands (LinkedIn, Facebook) are gone by then, the connections will still exist, and the ones that have value will persist, in nurtured. Just like in face to face relationships.

  3. I actually wrote this post for other folks I know, who aren’t as well connected as we are. That’s sorta the thing. I think those folks could get online and do what a lot of us do. But still, I know lots of people in my personal life who don’t use the web as we do (maybe just for email or for web surfing) and as a result, they’re failed by the web services that exist that purport to “connect” people to each other in meaningful ways.

    I met my first friends online back on AOL in the 90s and still connect with people online these days too, but trying to bridge that gap for others..well, I think it could be done better.

    Thanks for commenting. :)

  4. Ron
    I so disagree! Over the last three years, almost all the interesting and influential people I’ve met – in both my personal and professional life – I’ve met online through blogs, Twitter and other social media.

    If you go into it thinking you’ll learn (rather than teach), if you join in conversations, if you engage those who reach out to you, you can develop relationships in the social media space that are real and lasting (and I can almost guarantee you they won’t try to sell you anything).

    At least that has been my experience. Don’t write off the social media!


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