What Makes the Different Social Networks Tick?
March 30, 2008 3 Comments
There are two “full-service” social networks that I predominantly use: Facebook and LinkedIn. I belong to a Ning group as well, but don’t often check in there. I avoid MySpace the way I’d avoid a hipster rave…it’s just not me.
Over time, I’ve either read things about social networks or made my own assumptions about them:
- Facebook and MySpace really don’t compete with each other
- Facebook is extending its reach to take on LinkedIn as the primary business network
- Ning will emerge as an equal competitor to Facebook and MySpace due to its flexibility and user control
Aside from this horse race aspect, there’s also the issue of what you want to get from a social network. This is an important consideration. Josh Catone at ReadWriteWeb has a post that asks, Should Employers Use Social Network Profiles in the Hiring Process? It’s a really good question. And I think one that is probably best answered this way: assume they will.
With these perspectives as background, I wanted to map several social networks to understand them a little more. Not so much the technical ins-and-outs (APIs, open social, openID, etc.). More in the sense of why people use the different networks.
I picked four: Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Ning. They are all quite distinct in their approach and personality. The chart below is my map of the social networks’ strengths. Across the top, I’ve put six different types of social connections. The boxes below each column represent the relative strength of each network for that social interaction.
Here’s my breakdown of the four social networks.
More than any other social network, Facebook wants to be The Social Utility. Like electricity or water, you just plug into Facebook, and it’s the place you go for all of your social interactions.
Facebook’s Ivy League-inspired ethos is a good one for being a wider destination of all your social interactions. Clean interfaces, heavy alumni basis and a relatively safe feel to it are key to its wide appeal. It works well for keeping up with friends, social acquaintances and friends from the past.
I think there’s a fundamental decision you have to make with Facebook. Do you intend to use it to keep up with people to whom you really have a connection? Or do you see it as essentially a communication venue?
I use it only for people with whom I have a relationship in the offline world. This is important for me. I use the Notes functionality to blog about my kids. Lord knows I don’t want everyone out on the Web to read those. So I keep my Facebook network quite limited. Others, like Robert Scoble and his 5,000 Facebook “friends”, seem less interested in the interaction and more interested in the one-way communication.
What makes Facebook great for friends is what makes it not good for business in my mind. There’s the personal and goofy stuff you do on Facebook. Blog about your kids, talk politics, post party pix, family pix, throw sheep, etc. I don’t think that stuff is what you want your business contacts to see.
Facebook has designs on moving into the business networking space. The recently introduced ability to create your own groups and use those groups for distributing updates helps this cause. But it seems like a lot of work to keep all these connections categorized and used correctly.
Facebook’s best social interaction: core lifestream stuff with people you’ve known for years.
I remember the glowing, pre-Facebook stories about MySpace. Founded by musicians, it had hipster cred. Kids loved it. And the profiles can be customized a lot in terms of look and layout. True personalization.
What did all that give us? Tila Tequila.
OK, that was a cheap shot. But MySpace has become an impenetrable thicket of overdone profiles with…uh…interesting pix and teen age language. I surfed around over there, and I’m a stranger in a strange land.
Which begs a question. In the chart above, Facebook and MySpace share strengths in several social interactions. So don’t they compete? I’ll have to say not really. The demographics of the two networks are quite different.
If Facebook is Harvard, MySpace is the crowded hookup bar.
I haven’t heard MySpace tabbed as a competitor in the business networking space. Yeah, it’s a pretty safe bet that’s not gonna happen.
But I do want note the large number of specialized groups on MySpace. That’s a really nice aspect of the social network. Meet like-minded folks to discuss topics of interest.
MySpace’s best social interaction: sharing good times and opinions with friends, fellow travelers and hookups.
LinkedIn is a dry, utilitarian social network. It feels slow, and you don’t get many interesting updates from your network. It’s full of business types. It includes business news on the home page. It’s kinda boring…
And it’s incredibly valuable.
As you get older and develop of a bunch of professional contacts, LinkedIn’s value becomes more apparent. I love to see when my former colleagues at Pay By Touch land new jobs. You can find people you’d like to meet, and work your connections via the “six degrees of separation” functionality of LinkedIn. I don’t have to worry about maintain emails for all my old contacts – I just fire messages through the platform. Employers use the network to find prospective employees. Job candidates can do research on the current and former employees of a company to which they’re applying.
I don’t look to LinkedIn to stay up-to-date on the lifestream events of my friends. I have no idea what my old friends from the past are up to via LinkedIn. The groups based on shared interests are only beginning on LinkedIn. I question how active they’ll really be. In professional interactions, people probably will have their “professional guard” up at all times.
LinkedIn’s best social interaction: reaching out to your network to prospect for a new job or employee.
Ning is a platform chock full of individual networks. Lots of them. Ning lets people create their own private networks, with much more control than what the other big networks offer.
This makes Ning an ideal place to set up social networks that revolve around a specific area of interest. On the Ning home page right now, featured networks include:
- myarchN: network about architecture
- Babble Playground: online community for parents
- BJPENN.COM: nonstop mixed martial arts entertainment and instruction
Ning works best for topics with members who are passionate about them. Hobbies, pastimes, specialized professions, politics. This is because these networks have a limited scope. Whereas Facebook and MySpace offer updates on a variety of activities for members, a Ning network is wholly dependent on its narrow scope of interest. Better have a lot of energy around that topic!
Arguably, a Facebook or MySpace group page can serve the function of Ning reasonably well. And specialized industry/hobby sites with good community boards are competition for Ning.
Ning’s best social interaction: discussion with people we’ve met online who ‘get’ our passion.
I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.