The first place to look for the answer is in the social network Wikipedia:
“A social network is a social structure made of nodes (which are generally individuals or organizations) that are tied by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as values, visions, ideas, financial exchange, friendship, kinship, dislike, conflict or trade. The resulting structures are often very complex.”
In my opinion, a social network is a community of people that are tied together by the same vision. In the case of Wikipedia, the vision to sort out the facts, and make sure the fiction stays out. I might even log into Wikipedia and clarify what I think a social network is because
The friend ones: your Facebook, MySpace, Hi5, bebo, orkut, Friendster, livejournal, etc. You join these networks and invite friends and play together. These are designed around photos, and sharing status.
The business ones: LinkedIn, Plaxo, ecademy, etc. These are the business networks. You don’t play here, you make connections and try to enhance your business credibility.
I could go on and on and on and bore you to death with lists of tools that people use to share. But what’s important to understand is that communities are popping up around the act of sharing.
Take Twitter. It’s hard to think that a community can be build 140 characters at a time, but not if you’re a Twitter user. In face, Twitter has been acting weird now for a few months (turning off some features like replies, and archives), and yet people are still connected. People still use it. It’s not the power of the tool, the tool can be interchangeable, consider how Plurk came out of nowhere and pulled some people away. it’s the power of the community.
And that community can be found in many places. From comments on Digg, to groups in Flickr. Video responses on YouTube to Pages on Facebook.
Social networking isn’t about Facebook, or MySpace or even joining so-called social networks. It’s about joining (or building) communities around an activity, lifestyle, piece of content. And brands can do it.
It starts with what IT is. Nike figured it out because they thought bigger than a product. So think bigger than what you’re selling and your brand could be the thing that attracts community.
This blog never expects to get a community of readers who comment. But some blogs do.