Coming soon: Network Overload

Source: Flikr user NorthernLaLa

Do you remember how your mom would tell you every year on Halloween that too much candy at once would make you sick? That you should save some for later, space it out over a few days? But that you were so excited to have all that candy that you scarfed it all down, and then paid for it later?

While a good deal of social networking might be in its infancy, we have to assume that eventually, a lot of these tools and tactics will become mainstream– if you can’t claim that already. As the late majorities and laggards start to come around, it’ won’t be long before Facebook and Twitter are as ubiquitous as e-mail. Niche-specific social networks have begun popping up like Whack-a-Moles. Will all this lead to a social meltdown? Will we really be able to keep track of all of our friends, followers, feeds and networks? Will we NEED a separate network for every conceivable aspect of our lives? Will too much make us sick to our stomachs?

I’m currently a member of two Ning networks: PROpenMic and my industry-specific network. (I’m sure many of you know this, but Ning is a platform for building a Facebook-like social network for a specific group of people.) As Ning and similar platforms become more widespread and more people become comfortable with social networking, I can only imagine that the number of groups creating their own social network will rise dramatically. Remember how it used to be so hard to build a web site and so not may people/organizations had one?

I can envision a point where my university alumni association, church, town, dentist’s office, neighborhood, family and even my pets all have separate social networks. It’s already underway- my family is getting into Geni, my alumni association has integrated lots of social networking features into its Web site. Dave Fleet just noted that he’s seen an uptick in Ning networks and inspired the title for this post:

fleet

The more diffuse my involvement in social networking, the less engaged I am. I used to spend a lot of time on Facebook. Then I discovered Twitter. I’m a member of Geni, GoodReads, TripAdvisor– and about a dozen other sites. The more I join, the less I seem to interact. My interest in one network gives way to another. I’m not so sure that it’s a matter of having the time to participate as having the attention span. Even services like FriendFeed that consolidate my activity into one place make it only slightly easier to handle. And often I’m connecting and interacting with the same people across all these different networks.

So what does the future look like? As we join more social networks, will we actually socialize less? Will people join everything but participate in nothing? What good is a network if none of the members actively participate?

People have been postulating for a while now that “social networking fatigue” will force more interoperability between networks. Will one network, like Facebook, dominate and roll-up all other, smaller networks under its umbrella? I don’t think people will want to manage dozens of profiles and interactions at dozens of Web sites.

As we counsel clients and businesses on social media and introduce them to the possibilities, I think it’s important to emphasize that just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD (see: shoulder pads, Furbies, and the Pontiac Aztek). Social networking strategies need to reflect a business goals and provide value to an organization’s stakeholders. Just because it’s easy to create a specific social network for your customers/employees/members doesn’t mean that it’s the best tool or method for engaging that audience. Look at what’s already out there and what tools the audience is already using. Are most of them active on Facebook? Maybe a fan page is a better alternative to a separate social network. Maybe all you need to do is jazz up your existing Web site with some interactive features that don’t require a login or profile.

In all our excitement about new tools and opportunities that social media presents, we have to remember that eating all the candy at once is going to make everyone sick. Mom was right – you’ve got to pace yourself!

Image via Flickr user NorthernLaLa

4 thoughts on “Coming soon: Network Overload

  1. Amy, Network overload is already here. I find myself, when I do my zero-inbox tasks at the end of the week, going through the networks that I’m part of. If I have not been there in a few days and the posts are lagging in being updated, I move the link to a new bookmark folder. After about a month in that folder, I delete my account from that site.

    I delete only because I want to try to remove my information before the site is sold or dies. Granted, once it is posted, it is on the internet forever, but at least it makes me feel better. Plus it frees up my 1password and bookmarks from holding on to sites I never use.

    Another great post, keep up the great job.

  2. I think your point “I think it’s important to emphasize that just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD” is the key.

    Many organizations want to do everything just for the sake of saying they’re “out there” in SM. However, it doesn’t always make sense. It’s a simple thought but really focus on what the goal is and see if that particular network fits as a pathway to achieve your goals. Not every model fits Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etc.

    Personal use is another challenge but I think the concept applies. What are you using Facebook for? If it’s personal and a way to share family photos that’s great but don’t friend all your work acquaintances. If you’re blogging for work, keep your friends away from posting silly college party stories.

    Any communications efforts should be driven by a goal, not by technology for the sake of technology.

  3. Agreed, Amy. I find myself more and more spread out between the different sites…and that makes it all the tougher to do a good job on any one of them. Maybe when we’re on overload like this, we just need to take a deep breath and remember that nothing substitutes for good, old-fashioned one-to-one correspondence. With that as the ultimate goal, all of the rest of it seems to fall into place on its own.

  4. Hi Amy – Thanks so much for this post…surprisingly, I knew nothing about Ning so to kick it off, I learned something new today (speaking of mom):).

    You truly hit it on the head with this comment, “Social networking strategies need to reflect business goals and provide value to an organization’s stakeholders. Just because it’s easy to create a specific social network for your customers/employees/members doesn’t mean that it’s the best tool or method for engaging that audience.”

    Until people realize this important point, we could have so much “noise” within our social networking platforms that it defeats its current value.

    Again, great insight, perspective & conversation. Thanks!