Friday, April 20, 2012

What platforms has social media created for us, and how should we use them?

Complexity of networks and the opportunities they bring
Photo Credit: GustavoG

There is no doubt that social media has made a significant impact on our lives. Consumers get their information socially via articles and videos recommended by their friends, they buy things based on their friends' recommendations but also often based on "strangers' recommendation" like on Yelp and Tripadvisor, and some even offer products and services on sites like getaround, airbnb and prosper, but here again more to strangers than to people in they know.

From the earlier description, we can see two types of social network. One that is made up of people we know (simplistically referred to here as friends), while the other is made up mostly of people we don't know (referred here as strangers). The key values of friends networks are trust and relationship. These are people that we know, so we are more trusting of the truthfulness of their recommendations. Note though we might not believe in their suitability at making particular recommendations, for example we would not trust computer advice given by our technology-challenged friends. Friends networks also hold people we care about. We want to know how they have been recently; we are interested in their photos, etc. and we want to share highs and lows of our lives with them.

The key values of stranger networks are size and diversity. When we need advice on a niche topic, it might be hard to find someone in our friends network who can help us but because of comparably much large size of the stranger network, it is likely that we can find someone there who can help us. Moreover, if we need help from a lot of people, say to complete the one million pixel project, the stranger network is more right-sized for the job compared to our friends networks.

Are there other types of networks? There are professional networks, now championed by linked-in. There are also interest-based networks, like customer networks. What values do these networks offer? The article “Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media[1]” seems to offer a good framework for analyzing different types of social media. Hopefully I will get to reading it and then I can share my thoughts.

What are the implications of these networks and how should we make the best use of them? I think every individual and organisaton need to be more aware of these different types of networks, their functions and values, and then think about how best to use them. For example, recently I have grown to see more of the value of LinkedIn, as it is a better platform than Facebook for building a community of practice around my expertise. I can join in discussions related to my professional interest area and also build my reputation, something that is harder to do on Facebook as the content there is more informal and I might not be connected to colleagues that I am connected with on LinkedIn (and for many relationships I want to keep it that way). What are other networks I can tap into? What are the opportunities there?

[1] Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media  - Jan H. Kietzmann *, Kristopher Hermkens, Ian P. McCarthy, Bruno S. Silvestre 

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