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What is a social network?

January 12, 2010

Social networking is the hot thing in advertising. And it will be even when mobile becomes the next hot thing in advertising sometime around the summer when someone like Facebook or Twitter launch a mobile phone. (Google just did, and Facebook and Twitter long ago stopped being websites and started being media companies).

So what is a social network?

Seems to me that if people throw money at “social media“, then they should understand it. So lets start with the last word first.

Network.The word has a lot of meanings. It’s a noun (our network is behind a firewall) and a verb (I’m going to that event to network).

Today, a network implies the connecting of computers. The World Wide Web is a network of computers and servers that connect people to websites. Internally, our agency network is a connection of servers and desktops that use enterprise software to connect colleagues on internal blogs, Wiki’s, and client rooms.

But that’s a new use of the word network. Because a network is also a group of people tied together by something. A network might be a Chamber of Commerce, a thing people join in order to ‘network’. It might also be Facebook, arguably the most well-known of the social networks.

The point is, a network now implies the connecting of people. And when you really think about it, they were always social. They just didn’t have fancy logos.

That said, a social network is defined by Wikipedia as:

“A social network is a social structure made of individuals (or organizations) called “nodes,” which are tied (connected) by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as friendship, kinship, financial exchange, dislike, sexual relationships, or relationships of beliefs, knowledge or prestige.”

I like to think of a social network as this:

“A social network is comprised of people tied together by a common outcome.”

In other words, people join social networks for the same reason they join a Chamber of Commerce. Or at least they will. Because now, the newness of is all means people are joining for the sake of joining.

“Should I just get on Facebook” a client once asked me in a meeting.

Just think about that for a minute. No one would say: “Should I just join my local chamber of commerce?” No, they would weigh the costs and benefits of their time versus what they want to get out of spending that time.

Not so with “Social Networks”. People are in the process of just joining because they are there, and thus the number of people on Facebook grows in a balloon like way. And as the growth balloons, clients decide they want to get in on it for the same reason people do — because other people and products are getting in on it.

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