I am a relative latecomer to the Social Networking party, really jumping feet first into the fray last October with a flurry of activity releasing several Facebook applications to see what kind of traction actually existed in the marketplace and to see if there was any “There, there.”
Over the past five months or so I have uncovered several surprising (to me) truths about where Social Networking suffers significant disconnects:
- The vast majority of “the business world” is oblivious to social networks, either passively or actively ignorant of the potential reach and impact of these networks,
- Most of my colleagues / contemporaries (grew up in 70s, college in 80s) are absent from social and professional networking, and
- Businesses that do engage heavily in social networking are media, HR, or web-invested.
Editorial Note: These so called “truths” are of course my personal observations. Your truthiness will vary.
In short, while the numbers of people actively engaged in social networking activity are hyper-aware of the space and what’s going on, there is seemingly no middle ground of those businesses or persons passingly familiar with social networking; they either get it, or they don’t. A great deal of the people who don’t get it – in fact, I would argue they represent a VAST majority of businesses – are the decision makers for technology training, direction, and expenditures.
There are many times I would like to engage my contemporaries with something exciting that I have uncovered or discovered on the social web, only to to find that I don’t share their frame of reference and that I have a many hours, days, or weeks task of bringing them up to speed on the ecosystem before I can begin to discuss the relevancy of this world to what they are (or should be doing).
It’s like discovering that people under 30 really don’t use email like those of us over 30 do. Discovering that nobody gets your “Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!” rant (for me, this happened first in college when my landlord’s son asked me who “Yes” was while thumbing through my albums).
HR people definitely “get” social networking. LinkedIn is the SN equivalent of the Rolodex for these folks as they hungrily hoard their network connections and chum with the best of them. Media types (PR flaks, marketers, political activists, RSS geeks, news organizations, bloggers, conference goers, echo chamber yodelers, attention whores, and the like) “get” social networking for its ability to reach audiences. The web-invested (the Facebooks, MySpaces, Bebos, LinkedIn, Twitters, QIKs, Plaxos, web startups, VCs, etc.) “get” social networking as another fresh field to “flip and fly.”
Where does that leave the vast majority of the “real” business world? You know, the business world of retailers, bakers, butchers, car repairmen, soldiers, doctors, lawyers, firemen, policemen, government cogs, Walmart greeters, teachers, factory workers, engineers, dry cleaners, convenience store clerks, TSA screeners (TSA Gangstaz, holla), and the like? Disconnected and disenfranchised.
This is not an argument that for social networking to be successful, all of these (and more) need to be connected and engaged – I simply am pointing out that what the echo chamber of the social web deems to be important and all encompassing really only represents a small fraction of the “real” economy that the “knowledge based” economy willingly or unconsciously fails to consider any time we’re slapping each other on the back for Google Juice.
If social networks are about making connections, and meaningful connections, we will need to extend beyond the self-congratulatory echo chamber silos that we have built for ourselves and figure out how all this stuff we are building can be used for meaningful and long lasting purposes; raising our kids, feeding the poor, paying tuitions and mortgages, providing insight to the masses, leaving the world a better place than how we found it.