Oh no, not another social network! Between all the noise about Facebook's upcoming IPO, the Twitter censorship imbroglio, and Google +'s constantly shifting privacy and identity policies, is the business world really ready for more social networking?
Yes, and here's why. Social networking is about to shift from chasing large numbers of followers--which is really a publishing broadcast model and not a business contacts model--to a smaller group of well-connected individuals.
The race to acquire lots of LinkedIn contacts, Facebook connections, and Google+ and Twitter followers can quickly lead to social networking fatigue, as you spend your day updating activities, responding to various email platforms, and aligning your networking activities with business goals.
Three trends emerging now will change that picture.
1. One platform can manage multiple social networks.
The big networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn really don't want you to leave their confines. Enter the third party platform providers.
While there are many new companies trying to address social network exhaustion, one of my favorites is Nimble. Nimble is run by Jon Ferrara, who previously founded Goldmine Software, one of the early customer relationship management (CRM) companies. Nimble is CRM which utilizes social networks and third party applications to provide a fuller view of a customer, and a way for teams to coordinate their interactions with the customer. I've tried it out in the beta format and it works. Instead of shifting between lots of social platforms, you can work in the Nimble platform to tailor messages to lots of social networks.
"You or your business has to take contacts and both centralize and synchronize those messages," Ferrara told me in a phone conversation.
2. A smaller network may be better.
How large of a social network do you want to manage? At the recent MacWorld show in San Francisco I ran into Mike Muhney. Muhney, like Ferrara, was very early into the contact management space. He was the creator of the Act! contact management system, which became the defacto contact manager in the 1990s. He is currently the CEO of VIPOrbit Software, with a focus on mobile contacts via the iPhone and iPad.
In his book, "Who’s in your Orbit?" Muhney contends that relationship strength is based on time, intensity, trust, and reiprocity. Muhney cites scientific studies that show that 150 is the optimal size of a group for one individual to build strong relationships. This flies in the face of social networkers building groups of 1,000, 10,000, or 100,000 friends, but makes a whole lot more sense to me. Remember, those big groups are really publishing models, not relationship models.
The bottom line for trend two? It is not the size of the group but the depth of relationship you can maintain and grow. Think about the 150 contacts that you would include in your most important group.
3. You are a startup.
"The Start-up of You" is also the title of LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman’s new book. In that book, he advocates a wide, but also selectively deep, set of relationships. You cast a wide net, but build a selective group of contacts that can help further your business goals if that is your intent.
These three trends--collecting and managing your networks, drilling down to a select group and then using the resources of that group to further your business and career goals--are happening now. The social network model is moving from shouting out to everyone you can reach to having selective conversations. That's a model worth incorporating into your social network goals.
VP and Editorial Analyst, InformationWeek