Social Networking Sites: A Business Pangea?

One-in-five Americans now use one or more Social Networking Sites (SNS), according to a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press report, and many SNS are finding the 35-years-and-older crowd to be their fastest growing demographic, as James Challenger of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc observes about Facebook. (While, ironically, more and more teens are becoming more cautious when approaching SNS, with more than 75% holding significant concerns about security on SNS and almost 25% not joining one for security reasons, according to Lee Cheshire). These recent trends paint a rather unlikely portrait of the current state of SNS and, even more unexpectedly, are forcing businesses to grapple with what their policy concerning employees’ use of SNS should be

As Robin Gareiss of Network World observes, SNS such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace present a swath of opportunities and hurdles for employers. Contrary to what you might expect, many companies are taking the issue of SNS head on. Gareiss notes that “about 26% of businesses use [SNS], and another 28% are evaluating or planning to use them” while another “46% of companies [have] no plans” for SNS.

What’s the position of your organization?

Continue reading “Social Networking Sites: A Business Pangea?”

Deep in Cups

The societal effect of social networking sites and Web 2.0 is difficult to fully understand, for obvious reasons. In addition to the burgeoning number of books and essays by scholars and laypersons eager to explain the many nuances of these new developments and their impact, sometimes a short quip can prove more revealing and worthwhile.

Take, for example, this metaphor from Tim Barker of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“Social networks are the bars and nightclubs of the Internet.

Some cater to folks looking for a quiet evening on the town. Others offer a spot to share a quick story and a cold beer after a long day at work. And then there are those places where you can usually count on someone drinking too much and taking off their clothes.”

Very apt.

The Great (Fire)wall of China

There are two groups of people: those who affirm the Internet’s efficacy in the lives of individuals interacting in a Web 2.0 society, and those who refute it. I have found myself on either side of this coin throughout the years. Today, though, even the most stubborn skeptic will find it difficult to put the latest from Ellen Lee, staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, in a less alarming (and revealing) light.

In her August 5, 2008 “Web Chips Away at China’s Grip on Information,” she describes the recent trials of David Wang. An innocent bystander, David Wang created a “mock newscast criticizing Taiwanese officials” and subsequently uploaded the clip to Tudou, a social-networking site (SNS) in China which is centered around the dissemination of videos (a la YouTube). Days later Wang’s video disappeared.

Lee is fascinated not by the fact that the video disappeared – that seemed a foregone conclusion for such an inflammatory artifact – but by the fact that it remained online for several days. Lee cites this as evidence that China’s status quo may not be so static after all. In fact, in the picture she paints, Lee suggests that all the components of Web 2.0 – blogs and the many flavors of SNS – seem to be challenging normal hierarchies as well as traditional value systems. The result in China, she notes, “is the chipping away of what’s referred to as the Great Firewall of China, by which the government tries to control online content.”

Continue reading “The Great (Fire)wall of China”

A Reversal of Fortune, A Fortunate Reversal?

Social Networks, such as MySpace, are not just for freeloaders and bands anymore. Eric Pfanner of the New York Times reported today that Cartier, the luxury jeweler, has established a MySpace page and is seeking to accrue as many friendships as it can (currently it stands at around 3,800). Pfanner finds it interesting, and rightly so, that a luxury brand name such as Cartier has chosen to take this avenue to marketing its product. Corinne Delattre, Cartier’s director of communications, didn’t seem nearly as nonplussed, explaining that they “work with people moving fast. They use technology. They are ahead in their way of life.”

Pfanner also quoted Ben Hourahine, Leo Burnett futures editor, who observed that using social networks to advertise is “appropriate at a time when consumer attitudes about luxury [are] changing.” Pfanner whips out a shocking statistic: these days, only 7 percent of American consumers perceived “luxury” to mean “being part of an exclusive club” (according to a 07.25.08 survey by Leo Burnett).

At a high level, bystanders might realize an important change is happening – one more significant than a luxury brand claiming its swath of online territory in a social networking neighborhood. The luxury brands that we grew up with boasted an aura of unattainability. They didn’t come to you; you came to them – if they accepted you. Now Cartier, for example, has come sniffing, looking for a place to find us when (and where) we least expect them. This, of course, begs the question: to friend or not to friend?

> Pfanner, Eric. “A Jeweler Joins Its Friends on MySpace.” The New York Times. 07.31.08.

> Leo Burnett website.

A penny (or a load of cash) for your thoughts?

For those number-oriented folks out there who have a vested interest in social networks, Michael Arrington with TechCrunch delivers your Christmas gift early. In a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece, he provides a perspective which, I think, threatens to overturn our current (e)valuation of social networks – on both a fiscal and a social level. In Modeling the Real Market Value of Social Networks, Arrington suggests that the true worth of a social networking site should be measured not by how many unique users have registered with it, nor how many page hits it has per day/month/year, but rather by how much advertising is spent on each individual user. Arrington and company have built “a model taht looks at social network usage by country/region and compares that to available data on total Internet advertising spent in each of those countries. The model is then able to turn an apples-to-oranges comparison into an apples-to-apples comparison.” As he goes on to state, “the early results are surprising.

Although I’m deep down uncomfortable with assigning different human beings with varying levels of value, I have to admit in the current state of affairs, such a formula only makes sense. Were the world totally flat, as Thomas Friedman imagines in The World is Flat, then each user might be valued totally equal to every other user. After all, their opportunity to “plug in” will be the same as everyone else. Now, though, the Internet pie is uneven and inequitable. As many respondents have pointed out, Arrington’s model has some flaws. Nevertheless, I find the perspective refreshing and am excited to see what comes out of later models.

Gaia Online – a Brand New World

If you thought Facebook and MySpace were the height of social networking, think again. Likely you’ve already heard whispers about sleeping giants like SecondLife which are touting the same opportunities to “find” and proclaim one’s identity, but are also making their services more “sticky” through creating a virtual world in which its users can do more than just interact, but also participate. Like the July 14 Business Wire article entitled “Gaia Online Completes Series C $11 million funding” goes to show, it seems that SecondLife isn’t alone. Already more than 5 million individuals have plugged into Gaia’s network and the number is climbing. Although the trend of people turning towards online landscapes for socializing surely doesn’t surprise you or I, what should capture our critical attention is the manner in which they recruit the generation of boys, girls, men, and women currently coming into their own. After all, what reflects more accurately upon a group than the advertising ploys that suck them in?

As you can see from the picture I’ve included below (taken from Gaia’s homepage on July 18, 2008), the biggest persuasive element is the bold, flashy phrase “Express Yourself.” The captioning below that runs “There are millions of members on Gaia, but there’s only one you.” Our individuality, or particularity, is so crucial to us — even the designers at Gaia recognize that, and yet still we attempt to express our particularity through a medium which cannot possibly contain or communicate it (see Dr. Corey Anton’s essay “Agency and Efficacy in Interpersonal Communication: Particularity as Once-Occurence and Non-Interchangeability” in the Atlantic Journal of Communication). And while issues of expression are legitimate and demanding, I must confess to being amused by another persuasive element which apparently appeals to today’s teens: right above the “Start Here” button rests the caption: “Registration is easy, secure and not boring.” Not boring? Hallelujah.

Name-brands and Narratives, of a Personal Kind

Top o’ the morning from Jason Fry, who in his regular “Real Time” column this week considers the evolving emphasis placed on personal webpages (“A Web Page of One’s Own”).

Although he affirms that having a personal webpage remains more of a leisure activity — something unessential to wading through society — he also issues a warning: the status quo will not be static much longer. He foresees a near future in which creating a personal webpage is as crucial to our professional and personal lives as other technological commodities: TVs, mobile phones, email, et cetera. It isn’t hard to imagine this future, as individuals we interact with increasingly will refer you to their home on the web for pictures, contact information, or as a place where they conduct business.

Two themes in Fry’s article interested me more than the rest: name-brands and narratives. He quotes a Slashdot conversation, in which one poster exclaims, “Your name is essentially your very own brand; might as well try to paint it in a decent light.” This mentality congeals nicely with the best practices academia is instilling in recent graduates: business educations everywhere are reminding pupils that they ought to treat their name as a brand and consider their past achievements as their best reference. My leadership professors at the McDonough Center echoed this, instructing us to construct a professional portfolio which would communicate my brand, “the brand of I.”

On a similar note, Fry observes that “A personal Web page is an opportunity to tell your story and balance out other narratives that you can’t control.” While Walter Fisher is probably tickled that his narrative paradigm is living the high life online, what I interpret from this is that the web is evolving into a place of conflict, where narratives are being wielded for some sort of victory; maybe one for power, or influence, or control – or maybe it just plain ol’ authenticity. I’m wondering now if this trend towards conflict should concern us and how transitioning narrative conflict to the web will impact us interpersonally at home or in the office?

Newt

I was sent a link to a speech by Newt Gingrich on Education. Not expecting much, I was surprised by the saliency of his speech. His “world that works” and “world that fails” model begs critical thinking.

View his speech here.

Alternately, if you’re just interested in hearing a briefer introduction to his argument, view this clip, entitled “FedEx vs Federal Bureaucracy.”

Multitasking Reborn

The latest from PC World is as ironic as it is fascinating. Robert Strohmeyer reports on a burgeoning new crop of websites which are unlike anything we have seen before. These novel services are predicated on the impulse people feel to connect on social networking sites (SNS) and seek to drastically enhance the layperson’s ability to connect online. Recognizing that many SNS users are generally active on not just one but a swath of SNS, these services capitalize on the fundamental trusim of their market generation — that multitasking is always a plus — and condenses the SNS a person is active on down to one convenient loctaion.

From my perspective (increasingly not the norm, I find), the irony lies in the fact that where one might suspect a person seeking “authentic” connections online might desire to put all of his or her eggs in just one basket, rather than spread them out all across the farm, now we see a service which allows you to spread all of your eggs across the farm, and hold a digital basket where you can keep your eyes on them at all times. It provides the illusion of solidarity, but promotes quite the opposite.


See
Robert Strohmeyer, “Web Apps Manage Social Networking Overload” (Pc World, June 2 2008). [Click here]

Facebook Facing-Off

Jemima Kiss, writing for PDA: The Digital Content Blog recently wrote an article covering wadja.com, a relatively new social networking site headquartered in Athens, Greece. Although nothing stands out as particularly exceptional about Wadja.com itself, it has gained increased attention lately due to a controversial move by Facebook. Apparently, perhaps out of fear for unwanted competition, Facebook has banned messages which include the words “wadja” or “wadja.com.” On reading this, I was initially skeptical. Not willing to take Jemima Kiss’ word for it, I logged into my Facebook account and tried to message one of my friends about wadja. Sure enough, the message wouldn’t process, even upon repeated attempts.

Although this sort of corporate underhanded behavior shouldn’t prove overly surprising in the current era of cutthroat business tactics, it strikes me as odd and out of character for organizations belonging to this particular industry. Can social-networking combines, such as MySpace and Facebook, ardently claim socialization and networking among people as their top priorities and then comfortably pull stunts like this without fear negative PR? It seems to me that in light of this recent event, any member of Facebook has gained the right to seriously question this service’s dedication to seeing its members connect with other individuals. Not to mention Facebook looks especially bad when contrasted to the cavalier demeanor of Wadja.com’s managing director Alex Christoforou, who observes that despite “Facebook [banning] the word Wadja.com throughout the whole site,” he simply found it “weird and quite amusing. Here is this big Silicon Valley social network banning the word Wadja, an outfit based in the Mediterranean, having fun connecting people.” Since when did “having fun connecting people” cease to be the goal for Facebook?

Are we social network consumers left to believe that combines such as Facebook and Myspace aren’t having fun connecting us any longer? Have we become the numbers that they energetically affirm we are not? Additionally, perhaps more importantly, are we being subjected to the tyrannical control of our free speech, thinly veiled as a measure to protect us from “spam?” With this sort of arrogant display of un-legitimized power we could be witnessing the foreshadowing of a significant shift in social networking industry for the worse.

—–
See

Jemima Kiss, “Elevator Pitch: Wadja’s social network is big in Greece – and in big trouble with Facebook” (pda: the digital content blog, 30 May 2008).

Marshall Kirkpatrick, “Facebook Censoring User Messaging: Spam Prevention or Unaccountable Control of Conversation?” (ReadWriteWeb, 21 May 2008).