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On-Line Networks: Value-Add Or Distraction?

December 10, 2009

Social networking sites and their application in the world of business have been receiving a mixed press recently. In theory, our ability to build new contacts with such ease should be a powerful tool to support information flows, knowledge development and personal advancement. But to what extent has that happened – and do the drawbacks outweigh any advantages?

It seems to me that one of the major problems with most on-line networks (except those within the workplace) is that they grow in a relatively unregulated fashion. We have little idea of the credentials or motivations of many who join. This limits the willingness to share information and the value of seeking ideas or opinions. Who knows whether those who answer are qualified?

Another issue is the way that networks proliferate. Anyone can start one – and soon groups splinter or are replicated with something similar, but slightly different. This is sad, because it undermines the power and influence that such groups could have. But so many people are determined to focus on what is different, rather than on what is the same. This rapidly adds to the complexity of belonging – because most of us can find multiple groups with which we have potential affinity, but the time required to participate becomes overwhelming.

My personal experience leads me to believe that most of the senior people who were once part of such networks have been leaving them, in part because of all the unsolicited requests they receive. And this is the challenge for many groups; they are taken over by people with something to sell (these are in any case the most ardent networkers and always have been). Hence the message issued by one LinkedIn administrator recently: “Dear Valued Members of Sales/Marketing VP’s & Directors – Software & Technology group,

I want to thank you for your active participation in this group on LinkedIn. I hope you have received an added value from your participation. The active exchange of best practices and ideas among like-minded peers can be extremely valuable. In the last few months, unfortunately, many posts have surfaced that are little more than ‘spam’ and I have received a lot of feedback that this is diluting the value of this forum.”

So this group has now introduced guidelines for participants and appointed an administrator to oversee postings. And before long, no doubt, they will recognize that creating value requires oversight and qualified resources – so they will perhaps start charging for membership!

I guess the real point is that sustained value does not come free. When we created IACCM as one of the first on-line networking professional groups, we knew that it would require active management by qualified personnel and practitioners. Because in truth, most working adults are not desperate to receive more e-mail; they do not have time to check their LinkedIn or Plaxo or Xing etc. sites on a regular basis. Few of them will actively join discussions or post their latest best practices. They need an active overseer / editor to ensure that quality standards are maintained, content is reliable, and they are contacted only when material is relevant to them. Within the IACCM site, this has meant we need to create sub-groups, but ultimately we maintain a consolidated global community which has far more value and potential influence as a result.

So if I want a new job, I might follow the postings on the social / business network sites. But otherwise, I generally find them a relatively low value intrusion.

One Comment
  1. An HBS article provides some excellent insights to the use of on-line networking sites – and some surpising conclusions http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6156.html

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