It's the Connection, Stupid

Last week, Gartner released a report titled “Three Potential Pitfalls of Corporate Social Networking” highlighting that social networking utilities and functionalities aren’t a mature enough technology to make it a definitive business element. The four page, $195 report warns corporate America that “little evidence [exists] that social networking will be as beneficial for businesses as other Web-based communications technology, such as instant messaging.” Woah. That’s a bold statement there, Gartner! Maybe I’m wrong, but all forms of SNS are taking off and creating new perspectives for businesses.

Like Suw Charman did on Corante, I’m going to have to break this down…this time, from the perspective of someone fresh out of college who used SNS each day and also uses SNS to conduct research today in the corporate world.

When you’re dealing with a multi-national company with hundreds of offices, communication between employees can sometimes get muffled. A corporate intranet provides valuable but basic information about an individual (think age/sex/location in the hey-day of AOL chatrooms). Shared virtual workspaces can only offer so much connectivity between someone in New York City and Sydney. In the end, we all want robust, interactive and intimate (yet private) ways to communicate with someone the world over. This takes us to Gartner’s primary misnomer: value comes from connections and NOT content.

Put it this way: if a tree falls in a forest when no one is around, did the tree really fall? In terms of SNS application, the tree represents content; I’m not going to know it exists unless someone tells me about it. I’m going to know about it because an inevitable connection exists. Suw says it best: “The content is very important, but the connections are what distinguish a social network from a broadcast network. Without those connections, there isn’t a network, there’s just lots of people creating content.”

I can’t stress enough that how you interact offline (think cultivating friendships, exchanging ideas and knowledge sharing) is the means to a near-ideal setting for online interaction via a SNS.

Blogs and online journals, where communication shifted from a one-way paradigm to that of many-to-many, were/continue to be a disrupted force in major media. Wikis have reshaped the age-old mentality of closed information sharing.

I use Facebook because it best represents my offline connections. It just so happens that my friends push excellent content my way, whether that means upcoming parties or insightful personal notes. In the case of Facebook (or any other SNS for that matter), content is the by-product of the connection.