To build strong online social networks, better focus on your offline networks

Businesses begin to be more and more aware of social networks’ benefits. I’m, of course, talking about online social networks, a topic that’s been hot for several months. Talking about social networks for businesses often makes me think about two things :

– since the  network logic has been know and used by many professionals and managers for years (even centuries), everybody seemed to be under panic when the social networks trend emerged. What the difference between both ? Can we imagine that networks could not be social ?

– the great transhumance toward social networks made people forget offline networks (ie in real life with visual and hearing contacts). Since internet was about to allow us to connect to thousands people without leaving our chair and screen, to generate networks in one clic, why should have we wasted our time with people who don’t understand what we’d like them to do, who ask questions and even have doubts.

This second point is what this post is about.

As surprising as it may be, one click self-generated networks, that work and produce great tangible results on their own, never existed nor worked. The only issue is that lots of people believed that, hence painful wakenings and a sudden questionning : how to make these networks work ? How to create and build them ? The same questions also works for communities…

When I’m asked to define what online social networks are and what are the benefits, I often say they allow to get rid of time and space constraints we face in our real and “physical” life when we need to deliver something, engage conversations with people we know or ask our contacts to identify people we don’t know and who can help. That implies we can rely on a “real” network, that actually works, and which results are only limited by its members ability to “materialize” it (have a view on people outside our level 1 contacts) and to find the time to organize it and use it.

Any network or community won’t be created by a tool, the latter only helping to materialize and fluidify. That’s also what says  this report on social networks

“Online social networks are most useful when they address real failures in the operation of offline networks,”

The conclusion is easy to draw : starting from a tool, as brilliant as it could be, to generate networks fails most of time. What should be done is to built real networks and communities in real life and then bring them online. Explaination : thinking that launching a technological project will prevent to work on issues like sense, teambuilding, membershif, the understanding (and even the definition) of a shared goal etc…is a mistake. On the contrary, it’s a preliminary work that has to be done before the launch of any online project. Of course, tools increase the power of what is done “IRL”, they serve as catalysts. They increase…but seldom create.

This is valid for businesses who aim at improving the value they draw from any kind of network, whether internal (with employees) or external (with clients, prospects, “people”). As the post concludes, it’s not one more communication chanel that has to be managed like any other, but a strategy has such that needs a new state of mind.

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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