Social Networks as Communities not Competitions
Posted by Allison Fine on October 23, 2009
I was struck by this article on the Financial Times website called, “MySpace Abandons Race with Facebook.” The gist isn’t surprising, MySpace is falling behind Facebook in the total slice of the social networking pie and is therefore changing its focus from competing with Facebook to being a hub for music and entertainment.
MySpace has been losing ground to Facebook for the last two years in terms of the total number of users. What struck me was this line in the opening paragraph of the article, MySpace is “conceding defeat in the race to become the largest online social network.”
It struck me because this a frame that so many people use to describe online social networks — and it is both distracting from the reality of what makes social networks powerful.
I understand from a financial perspective that which networks are growing or shrinking are of importance, but, in terms of the experience that users care about it is irrelevant. Users go where their friends are, where a person can make new friends, and where the experience is easy and fulfilling. Whether that’s the largest network, the second, third or fourth largest is irrelevant. The networks need to focus on the experience, and it sounds like MySpace is doing that.
But there is also a lesson here for nonprofit organizations. I sometimes hear nonprofit executive worry that with their resources so tight they don’t have the energy to invest in a network that may not be here in a few days/months/years. Why should we spend energy creating a community on MySpace when it may not be here next year, they say.
In this formulation, creating communities is a financial equation. It will cost me $X to create this community and then it could be gone and I’ll have lost my investment. Just as MySpace has changed its frame from competing with Facebook to focusing in what it does best, so, too do nonprofit organizations have to change their frame in this regard.
Creating relationships, building communities is not a financial issue, it’s organization capacity. Learning how to weave networks (terrific post, here, from Beth on network weaving), listen and learn online, strengthen connections to people and organizations are priorities for organizations. Becoming better at doing these things is building the capacity to be effective in a networked world.
Shying away from it because that particular channel may disappear (and none of the more popular ones will, they are just too many eyeballs on them for media companies to let them fail) misses the point that organizations need to build these communities, and continuously learn how to do it better, in order to be viable and effective in the digital age.
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