Trust is essential for social networks

2008 will be the year of business networking, says Bernard Lunn, who offers six predictions about some of the social networks that are getting a lot of attention at the moment – Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing and Plaxo.

He also mentions one I’ve not thought of as a social network – Viadeo. It seems to me to be more of a news portal. Plus no mention of MySpace, still the giant of social networks.

But I’m sure Lunn will turn out to have made some pretty good predictions. He has some good arguments on developments by marketers in monetizing social networks as well as what might happen in a marketplace that’s rapidly changing through a mixture of acquisitions, investments, combinations and evolving offerings.

As a member of some of these social networks, I’m not sure I find any of this appealing at all.

I’ve been a member of LinkedIn and Xing (previously known as OpenBC) since 2004, MySpace since 2006 and Facebook earlier this year. I had a flirtation with Plaxo a few years ago that never went anywhere.

Facebook is currently my network du jour although I’m becoming quite disenchanted with what’s going on there regarding the Beacon advertising opt-in/opt-out debacle, a disastrous idea that seems to be gaining more negative commentary every day.

Basically, my trust in Facebook is rapidly diminishing.

And it’s all about trust, isn’t it? If you can’t trust the people who run the places you participate in, you’re going to leave.

Looking at much of what Lunn predicts I get the feeling that anyone who’s a member in any of these big social networks is seen as a commodity, a number to be marketed at, sold to and generally regarded as just another notch on a marketer’s scoreboard.

Well, count me out in that case.

In July, I wrote about Facebook versus other networks and relevance concerning what you want to put in and get out of being a participant in a social network.

This is to do with niche networks – those social networks that are small, and tailored to specific interests that aren’t necessarily mainstream.

In my case, I’m referring to niche networks like and Melcrum’s Communicators Network, both relevant to my professional interest area of organizational communication. Both of those networks are growing fast.

In that July post, I also talked about why Facebook was so compelling, which focused on its ease of use, cool applications and informality.

All important things, to be sure, yet nowhere near as important as trust.

In July, my conclusion was this:

[…] Sooner or later, a crunch may come where I decide to go with the one that provides all I need in one place – the opportunities to connect and the opportunities to collaborate.

I wonder how long that will be.

I think that moment has arrived.

Ironic, really, as I meant that conclusion to be about moving closer to Facebook. The meaning for me today is not towards Facebook and other big networks but away.

Here’s my prediction for 2008 – we’ll also see a rise in niche networks, well outside the frame of the big ones Lunn talks about.

The ones that become successful – which certainly doesn’t necessarily mean the ones that are biggest – are the ones you trust.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Pedro Sanchez Pernia

    Hi Neville, it seems there was some misunderstanding about Viadeo, the link points to where the Pr agency posts news and press releases about
    Viadeo is a business social network with up to 3 millions members around the world thanks to a recent partnership with the leading chinese business social network. Viadeo has been part as the only european partner of the official Opensocial launch at Campfire one at Google HQ.

  2. Peter Cunningham

    Hello Neville

    Pedro beat me to responding on Viadeo – which as Pedro correctly points out now has 3m members across Europe and China!

    While I think you are right about niche networks, I think very few niche networks will attain the critical mass to be viable economically.

    It costs money to develop and run a business network and offer a professional service (continuing development, hosting, customer service, moderation etc). Each of Viadeo, LI and Xing already have staff of over 100 employees in their group companies!

    Many of the smaller networks have already given up like SoFlow or are effectively abandoned by their owners (There are a couple in the UK I could mention but will not be so cruel! They have only a couple of thousand registered users at best and a handful of active users).

    Small niche networks will find it very difficult to make ends meet on advertising alone and even premium revenue streams maybe too small even if everyone pays something.

    I think the future of niche networks will actually be as subsets of larger networks (eg Communities or groups on networks like Viadeo, LI etc) or on white label offerings such as Ning.

    This will allow big networks with critical mass and a business model to invest in running and maintaining a viable business but providing the niche community with its own mini-network that it owns and runs.

    It will also deal with the problem of having to have five profiles to be on five niche communities – if all those five niche communities (even if private and invisible to the outside World) were on Viadeo you would only need to maintain one profile!

    This kind of arrangement is only possible if the big and niche networks agree a win-win deal!

    Kind regards

    Peter Cunningham

  3. neville

    Thanks for this, Peter.

    I expect you’re right re very few niche networks will attain the critical mass to be viable economically. The reasons you give make sense to me.

    I’m not sure I’d agree with you, though, that the future of niches will be as part of larger networks. Some no doubt will be swallowed up and may continue to thrive. Others will remain independent.

    It’s not only about the networks themselves from their business points of view: it’s also about the members of those networks. What are they looking for? What makes a social network attractive to people?

    I doubt it’s the probability they’ll be marketed at and sold to. It certainly would not attract me.

    That’s one of the reasons why I like Melcrum’s and Ragan’s networks. Not sub-sets of big networks and no marketing push other than for their own services, which I’d expect, and that’s pretty low key.

    All that could change anytime. But for now, that’s the model I like.

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