I believe it's safe to say that social media came into the world in the form of social networking sites which quickly gained popularity as a way to connect with other internet users across the world. Most internet users are now familiar with MySpace and Facebook, which have been the Coke and Pepsi of the social networking world, though there are truly many RC Cola's out there. Other platforms that perform primarily as social networking resources include Friendster, Xanga, and Classmates.
Before we go into the business value of social networking platforms, let's take a look at just how these sites work. In almost every case, a user is directed to creat a personal profile that will include some level of required personal information, such as zip code, name, and birth date. Users are encouraged to provide additional data such as favorite types of music, interests, education, etc. Once the profile is created, other users can performs searches, based on a number of criteria, to find like-minded profiles, and then request to connect. Often, networks start off small, by emailing friends and inviting them to join your network to stay in touch. For people who have moved often in their lives, or travel often, this is a great way to stay in touch. These networks encourage online chats, sharing of likes and dislikes, reviews of movies or music, and other similar types of exchange between "friends" to facilitate ongoing dialogue and communication. That's the gist of it, anyway. There can be much more to it, as much as you want to put into it, in fact, and these resources continue to grow quickly.
It's my assertion, however, that in the business community social networking sites have very little direct value. That being said, many feel that businesses should be very attentive to these networks, as McGowan expresses:
As far as services like Facebook and Myspace and their practical application in marketing and corporate branding, I feel that while LinkedIn may be a great outlet to meet business contacts and discuss relevant issues, this is where the real candid conversations about products and services take place between friends and loved ones. It is important for brands to be present in these conversations even if it's only to listen and react. More and more companies are taking the initiative and engaging their audience at this level to varying results.While he makes an intriguing point for the value of social networking, businesses must tread carefully, as mis-steps in these arenas can be harmful to their brand. McGowan goes on to say:
Users can be hesitant to accept new contacts from outside their circles.I understand McGowan's point of view on Social Media Bucket Number 3, though I have spent very little time engaged in these social networking platforms. I can see the power and perspective that can be gained by businesses who sell direct to consumers. For these companies, social networking platforms can offer tremendous market research and facilitate brand awareness.
Unlike a business and marketing focused community where most information is positioned to be seen by the most users, social groups on networking services like Facebook are more often closed to the public with privacy settings making these clusters much smaller and exclusive. The reality of parents, grandparents, bosses, and community leaders having access to people's personal lives is bound to cause a shift in the way they conduct their online lives and to be more cautious of who they let into their networks.
In my opinion, there is no better place to see first hand the profound effect that the advent of social media "groundswell" has had in placing the power of consensus, power in numbers, in the hands of the general public. Instances where companies like Amazon, who recently stripped all LGBT books of their sales ranks on their site making them difficult to be searched, or Microsoft as they tried to collect a percentage of the severance packages they had paid to former employees, being forced to right the situation or at the very least just address it promptly are becoming more familiar. Causes, petitions, protests, boycotts of all types trend regularly on social networking services and proliferate in this fertile soil. The buzz of the online community is now too loud to ignore.
Maybe it's my age, but I truly don't see myself engaging in social networking sites, other than to have a Facebook account so I can keep track of my daughter's network. And just to be up front- please don't bother trying to friend me, I pay no attention to those requests, and have no desire to build my network beyond my daughter. Indeed, I feel quite blessed to have a full life and wonderful family. Perhaps it's because of this that I have no desire to engage in social networking sites. As a professional who routinely works 50+ hour weeks and travels a few overnights every month, the time I have to spend with my family is far too valuable to spend it online trying to find internet "friends" or build my network.
But, hey, that's just, like, my opinion. ;)