From Dorm Room to Boardroom: The Growth of Social Networks
Over the past several years, social networks have become increasingly popular as they made their way into main-stream society mainly due to the ability to communicate in both real-time and asynchronously with a wide group of people. It is important to remember that the ability to use the Internet to communicate with a diverse and worldwide audience is not new and cannot be attributed solely to tools such as MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. The ability to connect instantaneously with people from all around the world has been available to us since Prodigy decided to allow people to set up user groups around topics that interested them.
This paved the way to the creation of forum boards, user groups, chat rooms, IRC, instant messaging, and eventually, social networks as we know them today.
Nowadays these social networks come in all different shapes, sizes, and specialties. Do you love taking photos? Hop on Flickr. Want to communicate in short bursts of messages in real time. Head over to Twitter. A sucker for video? There's a service a few people have heard of called YouTube. Want something a little more specialized? How about a niche community encouraging members to stay fit? There's Twit2Fit that is run on the Ning social networking platform. Now, you want to track your workouts from getting back into shape, thanks in part to the support you get on Twit2Fit? Yep, there's a social network for that, too. You see, there is a social network for just about every broad and specific subject you could possibly want. Of course, some are more mainstream and "sticky" than others; therefore, there's more engagement and sharing by the community, and more iterating of the platform by the founding company. To understand just how many platforms there are and how many different communications verticals they span, Brian Solis and Jesse Stay created the Conversation Prism, shown in Figure 1.1.
Figure 1.1 The Conversation Prism, created by Brian Solis and Jesse Stay, provides a visual representation of the social web. For more, visit theconversationprism.com.
These tools enable a single person to develop a personal brand that can compete with household consumer brands. Through the development of these personal brands, social networks, and blogs allow people to now be in control of what news others see. These social networks allow for the management of your online reputation. Besides these benefits, they create the ability for one person to use a platform to talk to thousands of people simply by hitting the Enter key. Social networks enable regular, normal, run-of-the-mill individuals, to become influencers and trusted resources to their communities. Yes, now YOU can develop your own personal communities. These communities can have a direct impact on your ability to build your business successfully by interacting with your prospects and customers online and building a strong fan base.
Social networks and blogs allow a wine store owner to connect with his community and help to grow his business from $4 million per year to over $60 million per year in revenue. These tools have helped a guy from north of Boston to develop such a strong community that they helped catapult a book he wrote onto the New York Times Bestsellers list only two days after the book was on store shelves. But, these tools have not only been beneficial to individuals. They have also helped some of the largest companies in the world reach out and start connecting with their customers on a one-to-one basis.
Businesses have greatly benefited from turning to social networks and integrating them as part of their marketing, communications, and customer service strategies. Using social networks has allowed businesses that embrace these tools to "humanize themselves." What do I mean by the term humanize?
For decades, companies have continued to grow through their ability to properly manage their brand by successfully marketing logos, catch phrases, slogans, and tag lines, all of which help to develop brand recognition. These companies became known by our ability to recognize their logos and get their jingles stuck in our heads, or the catchy tag line at the end of every commercial. At the same time, these same companies, in an effort to improve their bottom line, routinely looked at implementing systems and processes that automated as much as possible. Need to talk to customer service? Sure, there is a number to call. But, first, you're going to have to hit 1. Then 2. Type your account number. Type it again because you screwed up the first time. Say your last name. Now you're finally transferred to a human but because you hit 2 instead of 3 during the second step, you were sent to the wrong department. Now you have to be transferred elsewhere where you have to repeat all the information that you just inputted.
It's barriers like these that, while beneficial to the corporation, prevent them from highlighting the humans and personalities that help the corporation to function on a daily basis. Social networks help to change this. Humans can showcase the individual personalities that help to make them who they are. Companies can now cut out the phone trees and instantaneously interact with a single customer who is having an issue, which, to the customer, is one of the most serious things going on in his life at the very moment.
Besides just being active on social networks, these tools also enable businesses to, as Chris Brogan describes it, "grow bigger ears." You see, at any given moment, there are multiple conversations taking place about you, your brand, your products or services, your competition, and your industry. Imagine if you could monitor all this chatter in real time and had the ability to quickly respond? That would be valuable to you as a business, right? Hint: You want to be nodding your head up and down as fast as possible. If you're not, then put this book down, run head first into the wall, and start over again.
By way of the amount of data that users pour into these social networks on a daily basis, they allow us to monitor all those conversations with listening tools. These listening tools can alert us to any mentions of anything that is of interest to us. Someone bashes you on a blog post? The software service your company sells crashes for a user during a big presentation so he complains online? Your competition announces a major restructuring, product, or financial news? Yep, all these situations and much more can be monitored. In fact, these tools, because of their real-time nature, routinely provide information faster than Google can index it and quicker than news organizations can mobilize to broadcast.
Social networks have helped to grow businesses, elevate normal people to web celebrities, bring celebrities down to a human level, launch music careers, change national sentiment toward entire industries and assist in building and growing a community so strong that it helped to elect the 44th President of the United States of America.
One of the fastest growing and most popular social networks ever to be launched has been Facebook. With over 400 million users who generate billions of pieces of content, the social network has a larger population than most countries. When you first join Facebook, you immediately understand how it can be used to connect with family and friends. However, many people find themselves questioning the viability of using Facebook as a main form of communications professionally. Companies, rightfully so, have many questions regarding security, privacy, and how a website where you can comment on what your friends are doing, upload pictures, videos, and become a fan of just about anything in the world can actually help them to move needles that are important to them.
Throughout this book, I will tackle these very issues and help show you, both strategically and tactically, how Facebook can be used within your business. But first, let's start by exploring how a little social network that was created in a dorm room has become the behemoth that it is today.
About Marc Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg (shown in Figure 1.2) was born on May 14, 1984 and was raised in Dobbs Ferry, NY. Though it would be a few years before Zuckerberg would create the top social network in the world, he began coding at an early age while he was in middle school. Zuckerberg attended Phillips Exeter Academy where he devised Synapse, a music player that leveraged artificial intelligence to learn users' listening habits. The technology that Zuckerberg created was so intriguing that it brought both Microsoft and AOL calling as both corporations tried recruiting Zuckerberg before he decided to attend Harvard University. But, that was not the only project keeping Zuckerberg busy while he attended Phillips Exeter Academy. Zuckerberg also built a version of the popular game, Risk, in addition to a program to help improve communications within his father's office. After Phillips Exeter Academy, Zuckerberg moved on to Harvard where he majored in computer science.
Figure 1.2 Mark Zuckerberg, Cofounder, CEO, and President of Facebook.