Ramblings on Facebook, social networking and the future

SimonGeneral18 Comments

The rapid growth of Facebook subscribers has caught the attention of offline media in a big way. Every newspaper I’ve picked up this week has featured a Facebook feature, and most have also noted Rupert Murdoch’s concern that Facebook is overshadowing the Murdoch-owned MySpace.

At the same time new social networks are springing up all over the place. It seems that these sites fall into one of two broad types: sites that don’t target particular groups of people (such as MySpace, Facebook, Bebo) and those that do (such as LinkedIn, and for communicators: MyRagan and the Melcrum’s Communicator’s Network).

But how many social networks can one person actively participate in?

I can see how being a member of several social networks can easily lead to too much information than one person can cope with – from this tweet Neville looks like he’s experiencing just this.

In real life most people only have one social network one professional network. So why would they want to be a member of more than one social networking site for each real life network? Doing that would lead to duplication – linking up with the same people but on different services.

It’s likely that in the medium term any tool that links together social networks will find a role, but in the longer term I can see a big shakeout in the number of social networks out there as people start to congregate around the social network that delivers them most value.

Facebook’s open model is a big step towards allowing the user to generate their own value from the service through almost infinite customisation and personalisation.

So given most people don’t have the time to exist on many social networks at the same time, what does this mean for the targetted social networks against the larger general networks?

The value of a social network is in people being able to socialise in whatever groups, formations or networks they want to operate in. As long as the general networks continue to allow people to create and manage their own groups, then for social networking alone there doesn’t seem to be much differentiation against the specialist networks.

In the world of communications, I guess the two specialist networks appreciate this. I haven’t joined the Melcrum network, but the MyRagan network offers plenty of free content that’s useful to communicators and should help encourage people to visit the site regularly.

The differentiator for the specialist networks here isn’t the provision of the content itself, as that could be done in the same way on a general network, but is the fact the network is provided by a publisher that has the resources to produce the quality and amount of content that will help drive repeat visits.

LinkedIn is an interesting case – I’ve yet to see real value from it beyond using it to keep track of professional contacts. If those contacts were on Facebook then I’d probably stop using LinkedIn – as it doesn’t seem to offer any extra value as I don’t use it for recommendations or introductions to new professional contacts (I’ve always wondered about the credibility of this kind of introduction, having only received irrelevant or time-wasting introductions myself).

At a conference panel discussion a few weeks back a delegate asked how they could separate their personal life from their work life on social networks. The unanimous answer from the panel was that it just wasn’t possible to separate them.

The pervasive and connected nature of the social web means that links will be eventually made between any separate profiles, so it just isn’t worth doing – just another reason why fewer but bigger social networks will exist in a couple of years than they will now.

Other posts worth checking out in a similar vein are:

And if you’ve got this far and don’t have a clue what I’m writing about, then I can thoroughly recommend the recently published second edition of the social media whitepaper from Lee Hopkins and Trevor Cook – a great primer for this topic.

18 Comments on “Ramblings on Facebook, social networking and the future”

  1. Thank you Simon. So the bursting of the bubble is attention deficit confounded by someone’s idea of what market segments need bundled up into a ‘social space’.

    Is the next dot com bubble bust is attention deficit.?
    There are two big issues today :
    Convergence and Bling.

    Fiddling with cell phones to set them up to reflect lifestyle needs when setting up is easier on a laptop is silly. There is a better way and the existing systems are difficult to use. Managing television mashup with a TV remote is near impossible when time is at a premium. Switching from TV to Internet content and back for both TV sets and laptops to pull what ever content is desired is a nightmare. Using a games console to send email is impossible.

    There may be some ill considered competitive walled garden thinking behind this but in the end convergence has to be part of the mix.

    That is not to say that vendors can package what they think consumers need. How is it that I have to go to NewPR in one walled Garden, Melcrum in another, CIPR in another it takes time… I don’t have time. BT in the UK offers a broadband package that has all manner of bling. Stuff I don’t want (do I really need yet another email address, access to ghastly musak, or push content from magazines I have no interest in?) . In an era of user generated market, and social segments, second guessing consumer needs using conventional segmentation techniques is nuts.

    It just adds to attention deficit.

    Its hard to make these ideas understood but perhaps one can make it easy for organisations that remain wedded to one of the ugly sisters of modern management – marketing:

    Bling bad – service good.
    Push bad – pull good.

    Then we can all get on with the lives we want.

  2. I agree with you that there is a surfeit of options. I’ve limited myself to LinkedIn (I’ve been on it for four years) and the Melcrum platform. (I have resisted both Twitter and Facebook, because my observation is that they are absolute time suckers.)

    One of the things I appreciate about Melcrum’s The Communicators’ Network is that you only receive notification of new forum posts/comments if you *opt* to “watch” that forum or group (either by e-mail or RSS feed). Therefore, anyone who claims to be feeling overwhelmed by the amount of conversations can simply unsubscribe from that particular watch(s) and visit when/if he or she wants to see what’s new. (When I go on vacation, I plan to unsubscribe to all feeds for the duration. It’s not like the information is going away; it can be accessed upon my return.)

    Two other comments about The Communicators’ Network TCN). The contributors to PR Conversations have opted to set up a private group on the TCN platform, as a place to carry out our offline group discussions, as well as house a permanent repository of discussions for individuals who join our blog at a later date from other countries/regions. We’re in our early days, but so far it is working out quite well. Not only does it suit the multiple international timeliens, but I’m really glad to not have to agonize over whether to archive the (former) group e-mails anymore.

    The other aspect to TCN to which we are looking forward is the knowledge management/peer-review rating system that is due to be implemented on TCN within the next few weeks. Because many of the contributors and visitors to PR Conversations are academics in the field of PR, this should be a great place to submit white papers and articles (or at least links to them) that blog contributors believe to be of particular value. Individuals with a keen interest in public relations will be able to vote their (dis)approval of the information.

  3. I agree with David that attention is critical. At the moment, Facebook is fun and we’ve all migrated there. But do I really want to connect with dozens of people with whom I have different types of connections (not necessarily as friends), let alone keep up with their thoughts, actions etc?

    I agree that it is hard to distinguish personal from professional – but that’s what we still do largely offline. If the two merge, then where are our responsibilities? To have no social life because our employers don’t like what we might say? Or because their policies forbid it? Can I ever have my own voice?

    I’m also not convinced long-term about having to visit one or different places as “social networks”. My blog is my “home” and although I can visit places like Facebook, The Communications Network etc to add a profile, I don’t have the time to go there everyday. It feels like a pull medium – but with the irritation of more emails.

    Isn’t the wider social network the internet itself? I can easily be found by Google. Why isn’t that enough?

    The way in which people migrate round social networking tells you something. It is a bit like a trend bar. We might go there for a while, even invite our friends etc. But our network of friends remains a constant (more or less) and we still have our own homes. These social network sites are just somewhere we stop by – but it is questionable how long they will remain the “in place” to hang out.

    So home and our own network is the constant – these sites are likely to be more transient. Unless like the great pub, they are somewhere we decide to keep going to long term.

  4. The pub… ahhh I’m with you there. If we just look at the range of places that we now ‘have’ to follow. IfPR, CIPR, NewPR wiki, online academic journals, magazines, great content from expert practitioners, our own university walled gardens, RSS for blogs and news, Melcrum, Ragan, Facebook …. email, and our work spaces – I just ran across my Firefox tabs open right now for that list. Its too much and too difficult to manage.

    All of these sites are disintermediating each other. To make professional aquaintances was once the purview of IABC – no more. Academic journals for new thinking and research – no more. Trade mags for news – no more. Professional standards and the law were at CIPR – no more.

    Our needs are not and cannot be met by one or the other but can be through the use of technology.

    The drivers are convergence can I ‘read’ blogs on my iPod – technically yes actually its a pain to set up. Can I use RSS – technically yes but not on my cell phone because it required tiny fingers to tap the keys.

    The institutions have an opportunity to bring all the stuff together. They could act as agent but are a long way behind.

    Melcum brought to you via CIPR in an RSS feed as text, sound, pictures video would seem to spoil the copyright/financial model. I don’t think so given a tiny bit of imagination (some might even call it creativity).

    I also use a range of platforms. My phone, iPod, laptop, PC, PlayStation (not much these days) and even, on London Underground digital posters.

    The opportunities are there for the organisations who should be taking an interest.

    But lets make it simple. Lets get clever with synchronisation and someone please let me take my head out of the oven – I hate being stuck with my head in a screen 12 hours a day.

  5. Hi Simon, great post and great thoughts. The idea of social networking also goes beyond one person to explore the possibilities of how companies and several people within them can also participate. Per Rubel’s post, I think it goes much deeper than social and professional networks.

    I recently wrote, “The Future of Communications – A Manifesto for Integrating Social Media into Marketing,” that explores these ideas and also goes way beyond social networks to help PR people understand what’s going on and to teach those who want to learn how to jump in. (http://www.briansolis.com/2007/06/future-of-communications-manifesto-for.html)

    PR, as we know it, is dying. And, the real challenge is how to get the majority of PR to participate in these conversations.

    New PR is shifting monologue to dialogue, from broadcast to participatory and conversational marketing. I have been working extensively with Chris Heuer, Jeremiah Owyang, Stowe Boyd and Todd Defren, who are all helping PR learn how to make the transition.

    The future of PR is about conversations, knowledge, sharing and relationships. It will have greater alignment with sociology and not be based solely on the technology – as tech represents the tools to facilitate conversations, and will always evolve.

    The fundamental principles are:

    Listening is marketing.

    Participation is marketing.

    Media is marketing.

    Conversations are marketing.

    This renaissance represents an opportunity for passionate and smart PR people to reinvigorate an industry long associated with used car salesman to put the “public” and “relationships” back in Public Relations .

    It’s the realization that focusing on and cultivating important markets and the people within them, will have a far greater impact than trying to reach the masses with any one message or tool.

    (SW – comment edited as for some reason WordPress doesn’t like the link – URI listed above instead)

  6. I am very uncomfortable about the idea of companies and employees getting involved in social networking for marketing purposes. Too few have managed so far to get the idea of online engagement, and taking a “bling” approach will quickly prove alienating.

    With due respect to Brian, PR does not equal marketing. That is the narrow publicity focus where PR as puff and bling is as doomed as other forms of forced communications (direct mail, advertising, etc).

    Those who have long understood and practised conversational PR have skills which predate social media and their ability to network offline and build relationships should be the foundations for online dialogue.

    These skills need championing as traditional PR not trying to invent a new era. The transition is required by those who never understood that a remit to promote makes you a marketer or publicist, not a PR professional.

    I disagree fundamentally with Brian’s fundamental principles – listening, participation, conversations and mediation are characteristics of real people. They are not the preserve of marketing and most certainly do not equal it.

    Sure, marketing may need to have each of these characteristics – but the evidence so far is that marketing enters conversation as the wolf attempted to engage with the three little pigs. Too much huffing and puffing and threats of force if things don’t go its own way.

    Where I agree entirely is that PR people who are able to demonstrate credibility and gain trust in conversations have to be at the forefront of our industry and demonstrate their long-standing skills in buildng relationships with publics.

    These publics should not be viewed as markets or masses. That’s old marketing thinking – which will lead to piggies building brick houses rather than trusting people to enter as friends through the front door.

  7. Well, at the risk of extending this too far. Brian, I am with Heather on the marketing front. Marketing is dead. It just don’t lie down. It is not geared to conversation, it is full of bling, hype scream advertising and bull. Its based on the premiss of segmentation by the organisation a a time when user generated segments reign, its focused on four key messages in a time of conversations and it is wedded silver bullet solutins when multi-touch conversations are the rage. RIP.

    But, Heather, we have to be able to manage ubiquitous communication. Employees do hold conversations about their organisations. We have to manage expectations and this reality. One of the best ways is to tempt managers to trust their employees, be more transparent and invest in helping employees get the idea that everything they do and say on line is available to everyone forever and ever and ever. Ant it makes people blush to recall what they have already done. Then encourage them and offer useful guidelines and mentoring. Expensive – yes a great investment – absolutely.

    Now, is this marketing? No. Marketing is dead. It is offering the authentic voice and values of the organisation and its people.

    We all know that in some universities, there are people who have been nasty about lectures. The same can happen everywhere. Does it matter? Yes. Do the purpotrators realise how much their comments reflect on them both short term and the long term? No. Does this mean lectuers have to maintain excellence as a standard? Yes? Does it mean they have to suck up to these wayward people… if they can they are so intellectually dishonest they should not be in post. Does it mean that the Universities and other organisations have to include online mentoring like every other employer and institution? Yes.

    I thin that is ten eggs.

  8. David, I agree about employees holding conversations and part of my original observation was that it is increasingly difficult online to separate the professional and personal, which challenges organisations.

    Of course, we’ve always talked about our work down the pub (again!) etc, but online it is there for all to see often linked to our bizarre hobbies and odd friends in social networking sites.

    So it becomes more the business of employers – hence PR needs to be able to help build trust in management regarding employees’ online conversations and facilitate employees in understanding the rules online. (Ditto with our students)

    As well as looking at how they need to moderate their negative comments, comes advice about not being too bling and full on in defence of their companies.

    We already have these skills from working with management in media training, of course. That doesn’t mean the over-trained vanilla answer approach, but in assisting people to reflect their real personality whilst being able to leave some things unsaid or phrased appropriately.

    Simon – do you agree?

  9. Thanks for all your comments – this has to be the most impressively debated post I’ve ever written – thanks for your energy and insight in the conversation.

    Heather…Do I agree? Where do I start…!

    Marketing vs public relations in the social media sphere is a tension I ponder on every day – my gut feeling is that because of the role of relationships within social media that the PR profession is better placed than the marketing profession.

    That said, the two professions are probably moving closer together than ever before, and some specialist areas of each are virtually indistinguishable – but it feels like PR is “claiming territory” from marketing (and remember, I’m a marketer by training).

    Can organisations use social networking for marketing purposes? Undoubtedly yes, but they need to do it in a way sensitive to the values, relationships and practices of the community that they wish to participate in. Marketers who see advertising as the way to use social media will fail.

  10. On the PR claiming territory from marketing – check out the Hutton paper in Heath’s PR Handbook (which you’ve probably got as a set text from the CIPR Diploma). He feels that marketing has moved more towards PR, but that PR has failed to define and claim territory for itself.

    Also – we should recognise that marketing is more than communications, which tends to be how we have referred to it above. I actually believe it would be good for the marketing function to refocus on core areas such as innovative products, exceptional customer service, pricing models and so on.

    Instead, marketing seems to have been often reduced to promotion in much the same way that Kitchen reports PR gets reduced to media relations.

  11. Ooooh! Lets see how marketing is changed (if it exists at all).

    Perhaps it is can be summed up as an iterative process of lurking and listening, contributing to the conversation and innovating. If transparency is a given, the whole of marketing is there.

    But that looks a bit like PR (i.e. relationship value optimisation) doesn’t it?

    But that is another discussion altogether.

    So by listening we find out what turns people on and off. In the conversation we can explore the needs and aspirations, ideas and contributions of the commons and innovation can reflect that which, in turn will evoke more conversation. Part of the conversation may well include sales – and customers for life.

    The users create the ‘market segments’, product/service ideas, content and IP and promotion. TGhe organisation, because it is innovative and responsive creates buzz. Example – Google, Facebook, Real Beauty.

  12. David, I don’t think the Real Beauty campaign is a good example of user-generated content, as the majority of people associate the campaign with the viral video that was a (paid) creation of Ogilvy-Mather Canada. And it just won big time in Cannes, but even the win was controversial:


    There are some forums, etc., associated with the Real Beauty Foundation’s work, but I suspect the take-up and knowledge of them pales in comparison with the viral video–the brilliance of both the technical wizadry and messaging were definitely embraced and championed by millions from around the world. But I maintain that it was a very strategic, clever and thoughtful campaign devised by its company (Unilever) and advertising agency (Ogilvy-Mather Canada).

    Here is one forum I’ve managed to find:


    Worthy…but is it setting the viral world on fire?

    Perhaps a better example of user-generated content would be the invitation to create TV commercials for the American Super Bowl game. But even that experiment had a mixed response:


    This item appeared in Media in Canada today, which underscores my point that the viral video was definitely the creative work of organizations/staff, not consumer-generated media.

    Letter to the Editor: An “Evolution” towards greatness . . . if we want it

    What a wonderful achievement by Tim Piper, Mike Kirkland, the infamous Jancy team and the rest of Ogilvy Canada and, of course, the wonderful creative spirits at Unilever – principally led this time by Mark Wakefield and supported by Geoff Craig. They brought home Canada’s first ever Grand Prix at Cannes for the “Evolution” film.

    This was work that wasn’t supposed to have been produced, but through courage and leadership was produced. Whether you believe in the merits of creative awards shows or not, the pinnacle climbed in Cannes last week is something to be truly celebrated.

    Access this link for the full letter to the editor:


    (I hope all of these links make it past Simon’s blog software police).

    In conclusion, I don’t think we are even close to user-generated content overtaking the traditional advertising, marketing or public relations disciplines. Personally, I have little use or interest in the vast majority of amateur efforts.


  13. Hmmm… lets come up with a better example… even though the Edelman effort worked quite well… What about IBM’s social media offering? No – they have not yet let the Marketing people go. Umm.. I am left with the social media people. I will work on it after tomoz – too busy tonight.

    Incidentally I am not proposing that user-generated content is, or even should/will overtake the traditional advertising, marketing or public relations disciplines. UGC is only part of the story.

    There is a lot more too it than that.

    It is mostly about the value of assets like relationships and value systems (on and offline) but regarded as assets not as P&L and how ‘relationship clouds’ operates…. But that is a post too far.

  14. I suppose a lot of this is about a revision of “market” research, in terms of listening, understanding, engaging with users, getting their input into communications, ideas for what they do and don’t like about products/services etc.

    The concept of segmentation is also interesting – as I think what we are seeing is a move closer to what PR has defined as publics, who form themselves around (in our case) issues. So rather than the traditional demographic or even psychographic and other methods of defining “targets”, it will be necessary for organisations to understand how people form themselves into networks, share information, and so on.

    Indeed, where I think user control is most interesting is in the notion of networks getting together to negotiate en masse on behalf of individuals. So for example, if enough people want a product, they can get a better price. Or if they dislike a service, they get together to campaign against it – making them publics as we’ve recognised in PR.

    Looking at how marketing theory has proposed a shift from a sales-oriented, to a market-oriented to a marketing-oriented approach, are we now in a publics-oriented world?

  15. David, I think a better example of user-generated content can be found in Dell Computers’ sites, particularly in the way it is using its blog and other digital media properties to build community and make use of its customer base (and potential customer base) to build the products and services that individuals want now and in future. To wit, some of Dell Computer’s social media projects:

    Direct2Dell blog: http://direct2dell.com/
    Dell Community Forum: http://www.dellcommunity.com/supportforums
    IdeaStorm: http://ideastorm.com/about
    StudioDell: http://www.dell.com/content/topics/topic.aspx/global/shared/corp/media/en/studio_dell?c=us&l=en&s=corp

    At the Toronto-based mesh07 conference in late May, one of the guest panelists was Lionel Menchaca, “14-year Dell veteran and chief blogger at Direct2Dell. He also helps to coordinate other Dell digital media properties named above.” Lionel was one of the true “gems” of the conference. In particular, I was absolutely blown away by the thoughtfulness and articulation, commitment and passion demonstrated by Lionel in making use of social media to help to rebuild customer trust, loyalty and a new sense of community at Dell. (Something else he made abundantly clear is that Michael Dell is 100 per cent behind these initiatives…Dell propelled them forward faster than the blogging team probably would have done on its own.)

    P.S. to Simon, I’ve extracted much of this commentary on the Dell Computer models from some forum/blog posts on Melcrum’s The Communicators’ Network (http://www.communicatorsnetwork.com), Why are social networks so addictive? etc., as I don’t believe you’ve registered there to date.

  16. Dell is good. And now for another view. Markets research. I was with a client today and they were brains storming client pitches. So I hot one person looking a blogs, one looking at video, one podcasts etc. First shock was how much stuff about their clients was in social media, second shoch was how much ‘marketing intellegence’ had been provided in these different channels for communication.

    We could optimise message, reach, channel and approach really easily. For a tiny cost compared to traditional ‘Market’ research. We had good, realistic, risk analysed, outcome driven proposals in about 4 hours.

    So PR (using the ‘publics’) is now usurping yet another area of marketing. Marketing is disintermedaited by the commons.


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