Social Networks for Grownups

1 11 2007

Facebook, Myspace, and LinkedIn get all the press when it comes to online social networks. But according to an article in Fast Company by David Teten and Scott Allen, those sites are new to the game and have far fewer users than good ole’ Yahoo and Google Groups that operate through basic emails. In fact, Yahoo Groups alone accounts for 108 million users in 8.7 million groups – more than twice the 50 million members of Facebook.

The problem, they say, is that people get so turned off by all the notifications, alerts, and random news items they receive through the groups that they end up blocking all the good stuff that goes with it.  

Many people have told us that they have turned off notifications from these groups because they were getting too many emails. But this is a lot like not using the telephone because too many telemarketers call you. Eighty-four percent of American Internet users have used the Internet to interact with a group — more than those that have used the Internet to read news, search for health information, or buy something. Online groups are where your peers are; they are the “social networks” for grownups.

The solution is fairly simple: consolidate your inboxes.

Teten and Allen then give a step-by-step clinic on creating filtering folders to help us get the good stuff faster. They also make a key point about online group involvement. It isn’t important to be very active in the groups, but when you do get involved, make sure to add value to the group by accessing your particular expertise or your business.

But even without the useful tips on consolidating the information, Teten and Allen are right about online groups. There really is action there we don’t think about in discussions of Web 2.0. But these groups have a lot to offer in a setting that many people naturally relate to and know how to use.

The groups I know tend to develop elements of community simply because the same people interact with one another on a regular basis and get to know each other, at least on the email level. Each group has people who are extremely active, people who seen to be completely inactive, and people we wish weren’t active at all (but almost always seem to be among the most active).  

Because these groups coalesce around people with common goals, or at least common interests, they present opporunities to spread information to the “base” – the people most likely to accept the information and possibly spread it themselves. The stronger an idea stands within its base of support, the deeper it penetrates into the collective.  

While Facebook may be growing beyond all measure and new groups continue to spring up and offer all types of new opportunities, its important to remember where we can count on finding people we most want to reach. And nothing has displaced the simple email affinity group from its status as our greatest connector.

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