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What makes a social network work?

October 15, 2010

What do social networks like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare, Bebo, and even to a certain extent, e-mail and text messaging have in common?

The answer is status. Specifically, the updating to your network, of status.

Take Facebook. Facebook is about updating Status. LinkedIn asks “what are you working on?”, Twitter says: “What’s happening”, with a wink to what’s happening with you.

That last part is debatable, but we’ll get back to it.

So here’s the point:

We’ve always liked to tell people what we’re up to. From “How was your weekend?” to “what are you doing tonight”, in real life (IRL), we ask about, and get updated on status. When people status-cast, they’re updating what is really minutia on a macro level to their network. You may not care that I am “Going to a fancy restaurant tonight”, but knowing this tells you I exist, my location, my condition, my status.

For young people who are trying to fit in their networks, updating status is important. It’s downright critical to be heard.

This passive updating of status, essentially telling people what you’re up to even though they didn’t ask, is excellent because the act of logging in is, in effect, asking for status updates.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Foursquare (among many others) status updates are passive updates that help people get heard.

(On other levels, this blog post is a passive status update with more detail)

Like young people, brands want to use Status casting to let their current customers know what they are doing. Launching a new product. Having a sale. Jut making good stuff. Status casting for brands needs to run the fine line between telling and selling.

As we Marketers get into the realm of social networks, we should understand the reason that status casting is working for people. And we should understand when it isn’t.

If you’re just casting your status all the time, and not interacting with other people’s, then it isn’t as much fun. I know, I just used the word fun to describe a business tactic. But it needs to be somewhat fun for fans, or they’ll disengage.


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