The Rise and Rise of Social Networks

September 16, 2009 at 4:10 pm | Posted in Social Networks | Leave a comment
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Last weekend saw Mrs V1951 and me visiting our local travel agent to discuss a totally unexpected and most unwelcome change of itinerary for our holiday over Christmas.  As we were discussing the tour operator’s apparent lack of concern over the opinions of their customers, I mentioned the YouTube video by musician Dave Carroll after United Airline baggage handlers broke his guitar.  The original video (the first in a trilogy) has been watched by around 5.5 million people so far.  His plight was covered on CNN and even made the Oprah Winfrey Show, causing United share price to tumble, before the airline finally relented and donated $3,000 to a musicians’ charity in Carroll’s name.

The travel agent replied that company policy prevented their staff from accessing social media sites from the corporate network.  This surprised me – I’d assumed that the travel industry would be amongst the first to see the huge benefits of both reaching out to customers and also seeing what customers are saying about their experiences.

“Generation Whatever”

A couple of weeks ago, the BBC’s Rory Cellan Jones reported on a panel session, organised by think tank the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation.   The CSFI assembled a group teenagers from the so-called Generation Y (or “Generation Whatever” as one father described them) to find out their attitudes towards media.   It seems (surprise surprise!) that they are online even when they’re doing their homework – online meaning Facebook of course (“Nobody over 25 should be allowed on Facebook” according to one girl).  However, they are starting to wake up to the possibilities of Twitter.  The round table revealed that teenagers are amenable to advertising on TV, but are far less keen on adverts while they’re using Facebook.  In fact research suggests that online users place far more stock in recommendations (or otherwise) from their peers than in advertising or other “official” sources of information.  Teenagers also understand that there is built-in unreliability in the information they glean from social networks (“I posted that a flying horse had been found in Alaska and suddenly I had 100 followers.”)

Three clicks away from eight million people

Now, demographically I’m firmly in the middle of that thundering herd, known as the “Baby Boomers” (Vintage1951 is a clue, right?), but I’m an avid user of these technologies.  As an independent consultant, I appreciate their power in allowing me to build and maintain my network of contacts and to voice my opinion, hopefully thus raising my profile.  I’ve been a member of LinkedIn for several years and joined the Twitter bandwagon around 9 months ago.  I’m not on Facebook though; I tend to agree with the sentiments expressed at the “yoof” roundtable.  As a security practitioner, I can understand corporate concerns about access to these technologies during company time and using company resources.  However, I’m increasingly certain that social networks are bringing about a fundamental change in the way we communicate.  My list of immediate contacts on LinkedIn (169 at the time of writing) gives me access to 1.7million people.  Peter Cochrane, whose personal network reaches 8 million individuals,  makes a good point in a recent blog, that social networks create a network of hand-picked and capable people, which is far more powerful than a network where we have no control of the growth.  

Welcome to the Revolution

This isn’t a fad – something that’ll traverse the Gartner Hype Cycle and then vanish – rather a sea change in how businesses and individuals communicate.   This is what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls a Black Swan.  We couldn’t really predict that this would happen, but, now that social networks are here, the old rules (for corporate communications and for IT security) no longer apply.

So, if there are any marketing or IT security specialists, who are still in any doubt as to the importance of successfully and safely deploying social networks, take a look at this video by online marketer and author Erik Qualman.  If you have trouble connecting to YouTube, ask any teenager.  They’ll show you how.

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