Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Business social networking – reconsidering an old question

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on October 7, 2009

One of the issues I have written about in this blog is the question of precisely what social networking, and more particularly business social networking is. I presented at least a partial answer with my Platt’s Laws of Good Social Networking which I repeat here as I am going to reexamine them in a new context:

1. Networking is a proactive participatory sport. You are not networking until you start taking the initiative and until you follow through.
2. Real networking does not begin with the initial point of contact. It begins with the second, as that is when a real conversation begins.
3. Good networking is not about asking for things. It is about building relationships and developing trust, and that works best when you start out with an open, giving attitude. So good networking begins with paying it forward. As a corollary to this, if you offer value you will in general get value back in return.
The basic approach I cite there is and remains valid but it is incomplete and it is that incompleteness that I want to touch on today in this posting. And I will start with a flat assertion, which I will go on to explain.

There is a fundamental difference between business networking as conducted within an organization and in its internal information infrastructure, than there is where individuals are business networking with a focus and orientation on their own individual needs and priorities. In this, corporation or other organization, and individual person are different and even if both are treated as if people in a variety of legal contexts and areas of case law.

To explain that, I bring up two points that I would argue both enter into effective business social networking that take on different meanings and priorities for organizations and for individuals.

Platt’s Principles of Good Social Networking:

1. Effective social networking generally requires an accurate knowledge of who you are networking with and how they are contributing to that networking.
2. Effective social networking generally involves sharing and even collectively pooling bodies of information and knowledge from across the networking group that adds value for all participants.

Ask anyone who connects and networks through a site like LinkedIn and you will probably find that if they have reservations about networking with anyone, a valid basis for that concern would be if they feel that person is in some way masking their true identity. If I offer my name in my profile as I do, I wonder about others who give an obvious pseudonym in theirs and what they are hiding. I will add that there is a reason why adding a photo to a profile increases the chance that others will accept networking connection invitations and even where it is very unlikely the two will ever meet face to face. Identity sharing is important as it is a key to making determination of effective and fair-practice networking behavior on the part of others. It is certainly important for networking quality criteria like the above three laws.

Knowledge sharing is important to individuals too, where for example, the within-site search tool on a web site like LinkedIn and a good number of visible profiles you can do searches on (with you at least a third level connection you so you see the names) can be a very powerful tool for developing effective business intelligence. But knowing who is who and what they are doing to network as individuals is almost always of higher priority on any long term, general basis for individual networking than is pooling of collective knowledge and information.

Principle one is important for organizations and their internal information architectures too, and for a lot of reasons, including but not limited to facilitating development of better teams though a Web 2.0 Intranet. But crowd sourcing resources like internal wikis can be incredibly valuable within those same organizations too, and there principle 2 comes to dominate. In fact naming who made every specific contribution can be problematical here, where that can lead to less than the best knowledge being presented because it is not being judged entirely on its own merits but rather on the basis of presupposition and bias as to source.

It is important to really understand this dichotomy and this potential for conflict of priorities if not interest when setting up and managing internal, within-organization social networking, and with people who start out defining valid, effective social networking in more individualized terms.

One way out is of course, to simply agree to disagree as to whether resources like wikis fit into online social networking as a part of it, but even then there can be confusion for some of the online resources that most anyone would call social networking. I would suggest that any organization that seeks to implement a Web 2.0 information infrastructure clearly spell out what online social networking is in their context. And I would add that as this is an interactive resource that is under discussion, Web 1.0 central publishing of official policy statements might not be the best answer for doing that, at least if presented alone. I would also include this as an ongoing issue for further development, and in a corporate wiki context too. This would among other things mean that everyone who uses these 2.0 enabled resources would be in a position to share insight on shared problems, issues and opportunities and in relatively real time. This would mean immediate and much more widely shared insight from a fuller community of end users as well as Intranet service providers, and more eyes really can mean more and better answers.

Tomorrow I am planning on posting a note on wikis and how they connect into an organization’s information architecture and 2.0 Intranet to help solve an ongoing, common business networking problem.

3 Responses

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  1. Bobby said, on October 15, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    Great rundown of the role of social networking in business. As is mentioned, it’s important to remember that effective social networking starts with the *exchange* of information–you have to be proactive. Starting a (relevant) discussion on LinkedIn is a great way to make connections and establish your business/brand as an authority in its field.

    • Tim Platt said, on October 15, 2009 at 5:54 pm

      Thank you Bobby, for your feedback and particularly for bringing up LinkedIn in this context. I will in fact both agree and take this one step further. I started participating in the LinkedIn Q&A before I started the blog and I responded to 23 questions. I put some thought and effort into my responses and looked to see how they were received; I received 15 best answer responses and I found this validating in a way that encouraged me to take that next step and blog.

      No, I am not trying to say that I only see a feature like LinkedIn as a gateway step for potential bloggers, but I have found it useful in this way as well as of value in and of itself. And yes, participation in features like LinkedIn Q&A can help you develop new business opportunities – provided your focus is on being informative and on raising issues for discussion and you do not simply come across as using high pressure sales tactics.

  2. Bobby said, on October 24, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    Looks like you’re “proof of concept,” Tim.;-)

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