The Network That Really Matters

Software to tap personal social networks for business is spreading. Should you be interested--or worried?
Steve Pope, a commercial real-estate marketing consultant with Applied Marketing Science Inc., says Visible Path helps overcome some of the privacy concerns that prevent people from sharing information. "We've been trying to get professionals to share [contacts]. We just can't get it done," he says. "They don't have to give up their personal contacts and Rolodex." Using Visible Path, for example, if I want to access someone in your contact list, you know who I am, but I don't know who you are. So I can't call you up or stop by your office to badger you to say yes--all I can do is send a Visible Path request.

The downside to such privacy measures, Pope says, is that the intermediary might ignore the request or contact the decision maker himself in an attempt to discover the opportunity. Pope suggests that tracking contact requests and their outcomes can police such tactics.

But at companies such as 3i, an employee's compensation is set in part by his or her social network. 3i staff reviews include a section scoring how much people contributed to the knowledge base of the group. "The score that you get in that part, as well as the score you get for doing the business, combine together to determine how much bonus you get," Perry says.

As the business value of social networking becomes more apparent, Denis Pombriant, managing principal at Beagle Research Group, an emerging-technology consulting firm, predicts the larger customer-relationship-management companies will incorporate the science of connecting people into their systems. He suggests that as we move from mass marketing to the more-personalized marketing just now becoming possible, social networking will become critical.

Illustration by Riccardo Stampatori

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Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
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Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing