Value in Social Networks

Had a great lunch with two really smart folks – the following was asked, and it rattled a theme around my head.


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What if you had to prove (through actions) that you had already provided real value to someone, before you could “friend” them?   What would a social network look like if  every one of your “friends” was guaranteed to have listened to your advice, in a meaningful way, at least once in the past?

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Social Networks evolve in a way that demonstrates how people use different tools for interacting:

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  1. with their closest friends (email/sms/fbmsg for me)
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  3. with their core audience (RSS/4sq for me)
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  5. with their broader but still relevant audience (RSS/Twitter/FB for me)
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  7. with the people they want to denote social relationships with (LinkedIn and Facebook for me).
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What tends to happen with successful social networks is that they have a core value to the first user and some incentives to connect with friends (LinkedIn is better than traditional resumes and you look more valuable with better social proof).

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But, after reaching a core network size where the product is optimized for relevant information or connections, the incentive continues to push growth; the network starts to signal relationships over information and becomes less relevant.  That’s happened to LinkedIn and to Facebook.

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Facebook’s investing in games (and other platform apps), to maintain the users attention and keep them motivated in the quest for ultimate “connection with everything.”  As a result, Facebook’s got a broad ownership of your entire social graph (how you connect broadly to companies, products, people) — it’s probably going to win there.

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So, if you want to build a social entity, don’t compete on the broader data play — ask yourself what niche information can you get detail and clarity on that either users or marketers care about?

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Back to the original question — I’d find a network that shared the people that are influenced by the people I influence (Think LinkedIn, back when you only had 150 connections).  I could understand whom you actually have a good relationship with, so that I could ask for good quality introductions from you, or discuss relevant people with you.

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There are a lot of other niche plays available to us out there. That’s where the hustlers should focus right now.

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