During the downturn social networks are more at work than they ever did

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This is the obvious evidence that, before predicting the end of some trends, it would be necessary to wonder about their goals. In brief, instead of saying that a new born generation of tools will soon disappear, it’s important to think about their usefulness, their value. No matter it’s a downturn time or not, people are more likely to may for a useful service than using a useless service for free just when they could do something more productive instead.

The case of linkedIn is very interesting in this perspective. Ok, their fundraising was closed weeks before the “official” begionning of the crisis but it means something. It’s the evidence that when a service delivers a real value and many users agree to pay to use it, the future seems not to be so bad. Who would agree to pay to use Facebook or Twitter ? Not me.

Tom Davenport, who I appreciate for never giving things more importance than they deserve, was wondering if, because of the downturn, people will give up the funny web 2.0 and come back to more pragmatic basics. For once I don’t agree with him. Or partly.

Since we’re told avery morning that the world is collapsing, my mailbox and my phone are more busy than ever. A lot of messages, of calls, with one common purpose : people are looking for people who… you

• I need to raise a “commando team” to survive the next two years. Do you know people I could hire ? I decided to insource key competences because we’ll need to fight hard.

• Hey ! Do you know someone who is working at xxxx ? I really need to contact them.

• We’re short listed by a prospect but the competition is very hard. You know them, could you recommend us ?

• Do you have news from…. ? We’ve been out of sight for years and I’d like to ask him for help. He’s still working for xxxx isn’t he ? You know how to reach him ?

I recently had a drink with some old friends, all being sales people. “Ok…we’re all in different companies that are not competitors, perhaps it would be a good idea to share information when one sees an opportunity for one of the others”. That made me smile. I’ve never succeeded in convincing them that networking was key to make business till then. “When you’re good, you don’t need others to sell”. Except in a downturn.

In short, people are rediscovering the interest of having a wide and active network. Whether it’s about colleagues or people outside their company : they have to run fast in order to be the first to exploit any occasion. So it’s important to know each other better, exchange. Inside and outside the company.

Let’s come back to Davenport. I don’t think me must think in terms of tools but in terms of service. He writes that people would probably not have the time anymore to traipse around Second Life because they will have more important concerns. I agree…except for those for whom it’s business critical. In the other hand, there’s clearly a future for tools that deliver a real business value. There are services that are defined by their use and those that are defined by what they make possible. The second will survive.

I don’t want or I don’t have time anymore to use this or this, but I need to find contacts, prospects, partners, more than ever. This is the point. This is what makes the difference between services in a downturn : some are nice to have and some are must have.

Tools don’t build their own purpose. But purposes make tools useful. That’s why I’m sure the economic downturn will not mean the death of all the 2.0 social things, it will only make people focus on the more valuable ones.