I recently came across an interesting article by Ben Kunz titled Facebook, Google Must Adapt as Users Embrace ‘Unsocial’ Networks. In discussing Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, Kunz suggests that there may be a move to smaller, more closed networks with some users, citing Zipf’s Law: “If all nodes are not equal…in any system of resources there exists declining value for each subsequent item.”
This got me thinking about the different ways I use networks. As an early adopter, I’ve been using LinkedIn since the beginning of 2004 and of course, NETSHARE since 1992! I can attest from personal experience that Zipf is right, all nodes, or all networking channels, are not created equal. To demonstrate, let me explain how I use LinkedIn versus how I use NETSHARE.
I use LinkedIn for two reasons: 1) to research people and companies that I don’t know, 2) and to create an online presence so that I can be found. If I want something to be broadcast and become part of my digital trail, I am likely to use LinkedIn updates, groups, etc. It’s like going to the new hot club in order to be “seen.” When I want to know who knows whom I want to know, then I go to LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is incredibly helpful, but using LinkedIn for research and exposure is not the same as networking. Real networking requires some selectivity, yes, even privacy. I may not want everyone to know my business or what I am after. I may want to talk to specific people about specific issues rather than broadcast my queries and concerns across the Web. That’s where a smaller, more intimate, closed network comes in – what Kunz referred to as the “unsocial” network.
One reason I was so excited about Google+ was that the Google social media pundits seemed to get the idea of unsocial networks by using circles for sharing. The concept is designed to give you the best of both worlds – you can broadcast the information you want to share and that you want to be known for, and you can narrowcast the more specific information you want to share with targeted groups. Unfortunately, like many users, I tried Google+ for a while but it just became one more time suck that doesn’t deliver the intimate networking experience I was seeking.
This brings me to NETSHARE. Without really thinking about it, I realize that we have been building an unsocial social network with NETSHARE. Unlike LinkedIn, the hot new club where you want to be seen, we have worked to create more of a smoke-filled backroom where deals get done. Sure, you want the exposure of the big social network to build personal brand awareness, but the real networking goes on behind the scenes. That’s why we vet all our job descriptions to make sure they are for real positions that suit our membership. That’s why we have personal introductory calls, weekly career coaching calls, online networking groups and educational events for members only. There’s an intimacy and a camaraderie that we cultivate, because true networking is about learning from one another, sharing leads and insights, and helping your peers, because you know they will help you in return.
So while there is a place for the big, impersonal social networking arena, like LinkedIn, it’s hard to distinguish yourself among the LinkedIn masses in any way that promotes a sense of common purpose and mutual support. That’s why you want to be seen on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, but you want to find smaller, more targeted networks where you can actually interact, network, and get to know your peers.