The Great Social Experiment #2 – Will You Be My Friend

REPOST from original series started on blog.thinkfree.com back in September of 2007

It feels like I just went into a single’s bar and shouted “will somebody be my friend!.”

Recently NPR ran a story called “Online Social Networks No Longer Just for Teens.” What great timing for my little experiment. The story talked about different types of users – students, social groups, entertainment, and business. While there are a lot of issues I find fascinating about the other types of users, right now I am focusing on business use. Maybe I can write more on the other uses later.

The basic idea behind social networking sites is to expand your network right? It is supposed to be easier right? Why do I feel like I went back to high school and am trying to fit in all over again? I know I am overstating the case. If I try to add someone as a friend they can just ignore me – no harm, no foul. But, the way social networks have been built depends on the amassing of friends. The NPR story brought out the fact that the culture of social networking rewards what I would refer to as the commodification of friendship. How many friends you have is a direct correlation to how popular you are and how important you should feel. So my advice to social services is – if you are going to judge me by how many friends I have at least provide other metrics for understanding my behavior. Allow people to reward me for doing something good for the community.

An interesting point from the story was that when you become friends with someone in person you get to know them over time. You don’t just blurt out your entire life history, that would be a little awkward. When you create a profile and make it instantly accessible to everyone, people can understand you (or think that they understand you) in an instant. Instead of building a trusted social network it becomes a flat relationship where people feel free to interact in ways they wouldn’t dream of in person. Obviously this isn’t as predominant when you are using these sites for business (at least I hope so). But the corollary to this is that social services need to understand this behavior. There were many times when I was asked questions while filling out my profile that I wasn’t ready to answer quite yet. My advice to these services is – give me time to get to know you, then you can find out more information from me and the relationship will be more mutually beneficial.

Because the starting point for these sites is your network, obviously the sites that do a better job of managing your contacts have a huge advantage – LinkedIn, and Plaxo. LinkedIn allows you to ask friends for references, which is a nice touch. With others, importing contacts was a major pain, or didn’t work at all. Some I could tweak the import/export mechanism and it worked. I don’t mind having to go through some extra steps, but please, if I need to do something tell me what I need to do!

The question that I posed last week about these networks was – who is listening and are we talking in an echo chamber? The answer has been a little mixed. Yes, I have met new people, and am having new conversations. Is it as much as I was expecting or hoping for? No. But the lesson I am taking away from this is that if you do want to build new contacts that can help you, and that you can help it takes time. So, to the many requests I have had from the beautiful ladies out there – you know who you are – I would have to say thanks but no thanks. I am not into building spam relationships. Social networks are not a magic formula that will suddenly turn you into the belle of the ball. Like in the outside world (I refrain from using “real world” because it’s all perspective), it takes time to get to know people and develop relationships that can lead to meaningful action. I guess I fell into the trap of looking at these resources as a commodification of friendship. And we really need to break out of that mentality – myself included.

So tell me, how do you use social networking sites?

Next week: owwww, i’m u’r biggest fan. Can we use our grown-up words?

Follow the experiment on these Social Networking sites:

ThinkFree Docs
digg
del.icio.us
Facebook
Pownce
Technorati
Reddit
Twitter
Jaiku
Newsvine
Flickr
Plaxo Pulse
StumbleUpon
Yahoo!360
MySpace
Friendster
LinkedIn
hi5
orkut

Previous blog articles in this series:

Can you digg it? I knew that you could – The Great Social Experiment

The Great Social Experiment – #1 Getting Started

Future blog articles in this series:

The Great Social Experiment – #3 owwww, i’m u’r biggest fan

The Great Social Experiment – How has it gone?

And the round table discussion:

  1. Did I devote enough time to the exercise? More to the point, where should social networking be placed in terms of marketing priorities? Does this change for companies that are more or less mature?
  2. How should we be judging the outcomes from social networking activities? Are there tools you recommend?
  3. Is social networking the right tool for the tests I created? Are my expectations of social networking in line with what it can do? What is social networking best geared to address?
  4. How much of getting social networking to work is the contacts you bring with you? How aggressive should one be in reaching out to new contacts? Should I, for instance, try to befriend Chris Anderson even after I have composed a note meant to appeal to what he is interested in?
  5. How can I build better mechanisms into the framework to increase feedback?

Oh and don’t forget to use the social networking tools below to share and enjoy – part of the experiment right?

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