Social Networking, Blah, Blah, Blah

Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and other networking Web sites that young people find so appealing are weak substitutes for making and cementing real business relationships in person. Pro or con?

Pro: Back Away from the Screen

We live in a digital age, when being wired in seems as normal as inhalation. Social networking Web sites like Facebook and MySpace cashed in on the computer-toting generation by creating online “social graphs” that allow youths to socialize in cyberspace. Now, with thousands of professionals flocking to these sites as well as to business applications like LinkedIn, some feel it’s becoming necessary to use social networking sites (BusinessWeek, 9/4/07) to stay fresh in a new age of business interaction.

The evidence to substantiate this notion, however, is slim. Though the number of professionals connecting online surged recently, social-networking sites remain inadequate for successfully making new business contacts. Eric Clemons, professor of information management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, notes that serious business users associate the online social matrices more with spam than substantive relationship building. Unless you’ve already made previous contact, it’s difficult to discern with whom you’re really dealing. The computer screen, after all, offers little more than a résumé with a head shot.

Social-networking sites prove more of a distraction than a tool. The inundation of friend requests and insignificant news feeds on sites like Facebook eat up valuable time that could be spent solidifying contacts in person. “The most effective networking is face to face,” says Stanford business professor Jeffrey Pfeffer. “There’s no substitute for real human contact. It’s less personal online.”

Plus, sometimes a level of cyber-anonymity is more convenient than total Web exposure. While sites like LinkedIn and others allow old colleagues, acquaintances, and business clients instant access to your contact info, it might be more hassle than help to sift through uncensored blasts from the past. It opens up a Pandora’s box of social-professional ambiguity when Spence-who-used-to-mumble-to-his-stapler from Finance sends you a friend request.

It might be better to leave Spence and his stapler behind when you exit the company, maintaining a cloaked Internet persona. And a good old-fashioned handshake or happy-hour cocktail will do more to seal the deal than any MySpace profile or open e-vite. This may be the digital era, but successful business networking online remains a thing of the future.

Con: A Priceless Tool

As the 35-plus crowd jumps on the social-networking bandwagon (see BusinessWeek.com, 8/5/07, “Fogeys Flock to Facebook”), professional networking via these virtual portals is becoming easier and oftentimes expected by business contacts. These resources improve business relationships, open the doors to deals, and even land users better jobs.

Back in 1974, sociologist Mark Granovetter’s “Getting a Job” study revealed that 56% of people found their jobs through personal connections—even if they qualified as only “weak ties.” Today the Internet makes these connections easier to strengthen.

Facebook’s group-making options allow young and seasoned professionals alike to gather virtually, exchanging ideas, business tips, and industry news. The site’s messaging system and personalized privacy controls make following up on the wine vendor you met at last week’s convention simple and safe—he won’t be able to see those pictures of you dancing on a table at last year’s Christmas party until he accepts your friend request.

Similarly, LinkedIn’s clean-lined, corporate-looking site offers opportunities to make new business contacts. Bright-eyed young professionals can search for people using industry keywords such as “investment banking” or “newspaper.” The site then offers the option of sending these contacts messages.

The sites offer a casual way of keeping in contact, without the letter-style formality of e-mail or forced cheeriness of a phone call during business hours. Quick messages or “wall posts” allow for the bouncing back and forth of ideas, minus the stuffy, scheduled phone conference, during a busy Wednesday afternoon.

Furthermore, most recruiters search Google (GOOG) or Facebook and other networking sites for people before agreeing to interview them.

In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell points to the “weak ties” found in Granovetter’s study as “more important than strong ties.” The majority of those who found their jobs through personal connections “saw their contact only ‘occasionally,’” according to Gladwell. Clearly, being instantly accessible via the Internet—and immediately able to gain access to others—opens more doors for networking, despite the lack of face-to-face contact.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the BusinessWeek Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessWeek, BusinessWeek.com, or The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Reader Comments

Cynthia K Seymour

I appreciate the professional nature of LinkedIn and have reconnected with several past colleagues and professional friends. I also appreciate the ability to offer recommendations for professionals who have impressed me with their business savvy and innovative concepts. Due to the professional nature of LinkedIn, there is no pressure to "connect" socially. I can envision that LinkedIn will continue to evolve as will the professionals who are "LinkedIn."

mark

I'm glad to learn that Linkedin is still around. I never go since FaceBook "opened up" its platform.

Chris Kruger

While I have managed to get in touch with some people I'd lost contact with on a couple of social networking sites, I feel they are ultimately severely limited. Each one in turn will rise and fall as they are nothing more than curiosities for people. As marketers flock to capitalize on a target audience, the community feel and the novelty quickly dies.

MBHayes

The social sites can be much like having too many business cards stuffed in your wallet. They may at the end of the day help you get the tip of your foot in a door somewhere, but that's it.

I still marvel (with a puzzled look) at the amount of information people are willing to part with on sites like MySpace. Okay, are you really desiring attention so much that you wish to walk through the town square naked? The way people throw around personal information is astounding.

At the end of the day, those sites will probably serve big business advertisers the most. If you've got a band, business, etc., these social things might be more of a benefit.

Walker

Facebook and MySpace aren't usually placed in the same arena as LinkedIn, Lead411, Yahoo Finance, Sales Genie, etc.

The wonderful world of the Net makes harvesters of contacts happy, but when the real work begins, the personal contact and ability to speak and write well are what bring in the business.

LinkedIn is a good resource for getting names and titles and providing information with keyword searches. But when you have all your names, you still have to call, probe, handle gatekeepers, and overcome the standard "no" that comes with 95% of your efforts.

I used to manage dozens and dozens of telemarketer salespersons, and after 20 years in this business, I believe more and more in the old-school methods of working smarter, not harder or faster.

Do some homework, prepare for your contact, and find out what makes the person tick and where his or her concerns lie--and then help identify or parallel what you or your company or your product can accomplish.

As a contact of mine (Gill E. Wagner, who trains salespeople for a living) says, "There's nothing new in sales," and you can tell every sales manager, director of sales, and VP of sales that there is no silver bullet either.

jason palmer

Facebook is fab. I joined the National Gallery in London site and met loads of art gallery fans. We meet up to see art and have tea.

Mike

Citing the Granovetter study as evidence of the benefits of Facebook is a little disingenuous. Granovetter found that weak links were actually better than strong links for finding jobs since they acted as bridges to other networks. Theoretically, you'd want to keep links weak to exploit them to the fullest extent.

dbg

Have to agree with Ms. Goudreau. The adage to surround yourself with good and successful people still rings true. The electronic age may facilitate contact and communication. It does not substitute for looking someone in the eye. One has to have that person-to-person feel to intuitively grasp inner character. I'm sure that a blend of the two types of interaction will lend flavor to the future.

Jules

I'm a proponent of face-to-face meetings. These social networking Web sites started out to be fun toys, offering the convenience of keeping in touch with your friends without having to pick up the phone to call them. However, as the popularity of these sites burgeoned over time, people began to abuse them. There are millions of predators--cloaked with deceiving identities--looking for unaware underage children using these Web sites. Personally, I think MySpace is a waste of my time.

Sabrina

Have you checked out http://www.zooped.com business social network yet?

Andy Lopata

Social networks are a good thing if used correctly. As a way of building, developing, and maintaining existing relationships, they are a far more effective tool than anything that has come before, particularly with the globalization of even the smallest businesses.

People who pride themselves on collecting the biggest networks are missing the point. Someone recently posted onto my Facebook group boasting of being "Number 3 on LinkedIn," a "LinkedIn Open Networker," and imploring everyone to join his network and reach hundreds of thousands of people. Laughably enough, he removed the post when I started a thread asking, "Is size important?"

On the flip side, last week I met someone at a business contact's birthday party. We were in contact on Facebook the next day and are now in each other's networks, receiving daily reminders of the other person's existence. Without this technology, we would soon have forgotten each other.

Without a doubt, the real value of networking is in building relationships through face-to-face meetings and rapport-building. This doesn't mean, however, that online tools should just be dismissed as irrelevant.

EEParadis

Verging perilously close to qualifying as a grumpy old man, I naturally tend to prefer face-to-face, traditional relationship building. However, having friends and business acquaintances all over the country, even the world, I find that tools such as LinkedIn and the InCircle community my university initiated are quite useful. Both enable me to maintain old connections (weak or strong) and make new connections with people I find I have something in common with. Learning how to use these vehicles is the key. I think we are presently in the process of doing just that. I'm having fun--but don't tell anyone.

Laura

I am on every social network going, and each plays a part in my life whether it is social or business. I find them an efficient way to keep in touch with a lot of people simultaneously and get good exposure for my work. There are a lot of people using the technology in really useful ways. The Open University in the UK is experimenting with social software for education in its OpenLearn site--www.open.ac.uk/openlearn. And Stop the Traffik is one example of using MySpace for advocacy, in its case, to fight against people trafficking.

Ken Lubeck

Social Networking sites are not focused on people doing business. LinkedIn may help you find a job, but that doesn't help consultants and the like.

Borges Coelho

There is an obvious symbiosis between the virtual and natural world in play with social network services. Obviously, no service currently caters to perfection what everyone considers to be perfect social network experiences. Still, they open new avenues for experimentation, and we can hope there will come a service that will fit everyone's notion of social interaction, be it virtual or physical.

Armaan Khan

Just like some readers already have mentioned, there is obviously a difference between how people meet and interact in virtual and real worlds. What the virtual world offers is a more relaxed, fun, expressive place to be. I am on MySpace, LinkedIn, and Orkut. I particularly like Muslimica.com because it offers me a chance to make a lot of friends from my community. That social networking sites do not build long-lasting relationships is just a misconception.

Akhtar Khan

I believe it all depends on the intentions of the parties connecting. In my few months on LinkedIn and ecademy, I have made several connections (more than 200 each). Some of them are just acquaintances, some are professionals I would like to associate with, and some are people with whom I am transacting business.

Sue

The whole MySpace phenomenon seems designed to encourage kids to forget that they do (or someday will) want some privacy. And in the business context there is no substitute for looking people in the eye and sizing them up.

geets

The day we don't know how to talk to someone but for over the Web is fast approaching--the social networking business online has never been better.

John

Social networking includes many different activities and needs that people have to satisfy/cure/repair.

I cannot help but see them as useful tools to make life work better without the need to go to group therapy or the employment commission or professional meeting of some sort.

The added degree of anonymity they provide simply makes things easier to work well for me--relatively hassle free.

Happy summertime.
John L.

MarkyG

Social networking is awesome. I can keep tabs on friends and business associates and simply have one more thing to talk about. No excuse, you Luddites out there, to not love this new technology.

Debashish

LinkedIn is absolutely awesome. I have worked in London, Istanbul, and Toronto, educated in Sheffield, UK. Recently someone head-hunted me for a position in California. It's a fantastic way to reconnect with past colleagues and work-related associates. I find a lot of my friends wasting their time on Facebook, which is more like a university chat board.

Paul

LinkedIn is principally a business networking site (like www.Ryze.com, www.Konnects.com and www.GlobalBusinessNetworking.com). They have a different aim, and a different target audience, than sites such as Friendster, Facebook et al which are social networking sites. So it's not really fair to judge them together - bit like comparing an articulated lorry and a sports coupe and saying they're the same thing.

To answer the original question, yes social networking sites are poor substitutes in the most for business contacts. However a business networking website (such as LinkedIn) can be a rich source of business opportunities. They may not help you seal every deal, but they can certainly put you on track and offer new contacts.

Craig Silverman

There is no doubt that social networking sites can be very valuable to career development. As a staffing professional I can tell you that there are a lot of people getting jobs via sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. Recruiters use these site everyday as a tool to find top job candidates, so it makes good sense to have a strong presence.

Craig Silverman
HireAbility.com

Daron Jenkins

I always say there's nothing more valuable than Face to Face encounters. There's also nothing more damaging, if you don't know how to effectively communicate during face-to-face networking.

I preach that to execs and entrepreneurs at my monthly networking events for media, arts, and entertainment industry people.

I think people have to find the right mix of offline and online networking. For me, the best is to initiate the networking face-to-face and then use online to continue the networking, making sure to stay in touch, letting people know what you're up to and not only giving information but getting information. Valuable info, like other events you might not know about, jobs, business opportunities.

I recently joined Facebook and found a ton of my business connections from major media companies were migrating or already on there so being able to stay in touch thru Facebook was great! And no spam.


adamzhang

I think the best way to contact people is to initiate the networking face to face and then maintain the contact online. Social networking Web sites virtually provide us with a platform to get to know each other globally. They are a very effective way to communicate with others in a digital age.

Zahid H Javali

I think social/business networking sites are coming of age. My first such site was Ryze.com. Since it was a novel idea to connect with people you didn't know, I loved it. But eventually, I realized that most who had joined much ahead of me either got bored or were not really interested in networking online. And then a friend mentioned Linkedin. I definitely loved this one because of its clean front end that presents your resume like the credit lines in a film. Gives you a certain kick, of course. It also allowed me to find long-lost friends from school and acquaintances too. When I moved on to Orkut, the story repeated itself. I found many more friends whom I couldn't find in the previous networking forums. Only recently, I opened an account on Facebook and I am hooked. I love the presentation, the open platform that allows third-party players to produce applications that facilitate more interactivity between members. It's a good way to pass time besides being a way to network with lots of people you know but don't really keep in touch with. A-n email is still considered official. Over here, I can just poke someone or post something on The Wall. This way, not only are you in touch, you tend to become more closer to the person. After all, getting closer to someone is not so much physical as it is mental. So three cheers for social networking sites like Facebook.

Patrick

Both opinions are missing the point and do not even address the same issue. Yes a business deal is probably best done person-to-person and not through myspace, but then again.. bad example for a social networking site.

And yes it can be cool to review/search/recommend etc. profiles, find friends through friends etc.. but without a link to practical and effective use of these tools, and connected human behavior, it's pretty much a waste of time.

Hence websites which offer functionality and let someone's social network actively (real life strangers and/or friends) play a role in this functionality have the future. Whether you do this on your own site, or use Facebook as a platform is really secondary (most likely both). FUNCTIONALITY is the key word here.

Stephan Lukac

Perhaps the greatest fault with social networking platforms like MySpace and Facebook are the limited conversation and interactions that occur within them.
A quick survey of the typical Facebook “Wall-to-Wall” conversations demonstrates that they are not “deep” conversations.
They are ephemeral, short and amount to little more than digital small talk.
I have yet to see anyone go into a serious debate about the future of web 2.0, politics, or the economy. Instead, most conversations are relegated to “ Hey, how's it going?” type of conversations, which permit you to stay in touch with friends and contacts, but lack a deeper, more fulfilling interaction. The offline world offers a stronger opportunity for these deeper conversations to occur.
We should be wary of polarizing the Social Networking debate into just Pro and Con. We live in a grey world of disintegrating boundaries, neither black nor white. As new technologies arise, it is the middle road (developing an online repository of contacts and meeting with them for “deeper” discussions) that will become the most popular means of using these social networking platforms.

Luciano K.

Let´s think differently, is it the tool really?
- In terms of massiveness: we have both massive contact either via cyber-social-networking, job fairs, parties, wedding parties, and so on. But cyber & personal (C&P) socialization is still problematic.
- In terms of value: which is the most valuable ? Eye contact or the LCD screen? It depends on you, and your goals. Are you prepared morally and emotionally?
- In terms of goals: we deal differently for both ways of contact (C&P), so for "now" what is enough for you to see/gather in terms of info you need? What are you aiming at?
- In terms of anthropology: we are born social beings, not cyber beings, and we are just starting to learn to be cyber beings. Is it necessary? The economy says so.
- In terms of ego: the direction of socialization is the same in both C&P directions; the first is faster but not emotional, the second is often slower but strong (put aside idols).

My point: it is just another set of tools we need to deal with, since the arrow, pipes, shoes... For each we need different methods to improve morals. They are both ego-dependant, ways of showing up and they both don´t question our actual values. Our economy is money-driven, idol-driven, fancy-driven, gold fish-driven, massive driven...
What if it was driven by compassion? Think different, please!

Mark

Well said!

Luc Fayard

Comments on this blog article: Blah, blah, blah.

chris

The economic and emotional needs these networks serve are undeniable. They will only grow and get better. First-generation social networks, like the early cell phone and Internet, are limited and clumsy. If you don't like V1, you are either not the target market or motivationally aligned.

Economic need--relationship capital is an immensely powerful asset. It is the fundamental reason the rich get richer: access. It's an intangible asset owned by individuals. With proper permission, relationship capital and trust can be borrowed; but V1 SNets don't do it well.

Individuals lack the mental capacity and perfect knowledge to keep track of the ever-changing personas/employers/links within their immediate and extended networks. Managing relationships and access (to the knowledge or the influencer) drives us to participate.

Emotional need--we all want some degree of affiliation. We all want the white hats to win and the black hats to lose. If we improve communication efficiency, we bring the village back... the village where the unfair shopkeeper gets run out of town. Tribal affiliation is powerful. Relationships matter--we all want to stay connected to those (tribes) that matter.

Limitations--all friends equal? The V1 networks do not mimic human behavior; not all your friends share the same level of trust or bond, yet V1 treats all friends equally. Next generation has to measure the strength and intimacy of your relationships. V1 manages contacts. Once they manage trusted relationship bonds, the true value goes up exponentially.

Limitations--auto-discover vs. data entry. Who wants another set of data/privileges/inquires to maintain? Only "comers" who "want" a network. Most of those who have one or are too busy to worry about building a bigger one cannot find the time. Once SNets reduce the hassle-to-value ratio, the market and value to all grows.

I doubt BusinessWeek.com readers find much utility in SNets unless they are seeking to target the demographic currently served by Facebook (social comers) or LinkedIn (professional comers). Professionals want help managing their network and loathe ease of other's access. Once someone finds the right privacy controls and data discovery mix, network-wealthy players will participate and you will wonder how you ever lived without it.

Steve Horan

Isn't responding on this forum/blog a product/form of social networking, communicating? Nice to meet you all!

Ali Ghafouri

As they say, easy come, easy go. Social-networking sites are nothing but software platforms that allow people to share, connect, and communicate. The landscape of online platforms is going through transformation rapidly, and in my opinion, software companies that rely on users to be the primary drivers of content are set up to be doomed. Facebook can add 100k users a day, and it can lose them in the same fashion (trust me on this--read the postings prior to mine, and notice how many users have migrated from one site to another with no sense of loyalty). Easy come, easy go.

Tong

It may be useful; it may be not. But that's not the point. The point is it's fun, though rather different from face-to-face interaction. People who go to the networking sites have at least one thing in common: They go there to find out what's interesting. In China, we have a version of Facebook, www.xiaonei.com. "Xiaonei" means on campus. More and more students are joining it.

Capri

Some social networks seem to be little more than address and info collectors. Others are more useful in offering discussion areas. But Myspace is full of chain letters, which are unfortunately taking over the blogosphere as well, it seems. The thing I don't understand about some of the social networks is this "friending" business. I don't understand what's supposed to be so great about collecting so many "friends" and getting listed as a "friend" on so many other Myspace, Facebook, etc. profiles. It seems to be a status-oriented thing. "Look how many friends I have!" And I'm always a bit wary of invites to social networks. I've gotten a few invites from friends and invites from people I don't know. That makes me wonder if social networking isn't really the same as the e-card craze a few years ago, and are really ways for sites to collect e-mail addresses and other information.

homoisenga

I have a profile on Friendster and posted my desire to do volunteering. That post caught someone's eye who I never even knew existed, and suddenly I was involved in volunteer activities that are definitely fun and useful and sometimes add money to my pocket.
Other than that, I'm planning to use Friendster to enhance my plan to backpack, hoping I not only make connections for money but also for ideas that can improve the world. Another version of "Think globally, act locally."

Karel Frielink

It is all about the right mix: a combination of various networking sites (Xing, LinkedIn, Ecademy), your own (company) Web site (and that of your prospect), your blog and, if you want to do business, a couple of calls and e-mail exchanges. That's how I get (to know) my clients. Face-to-face networking is not always possible for people like me: As a lawyer, I have clients around the globe, 99% of whom I have never met in person. People who oppose social-networking sites do not understand the real changes that have taken place in the last 10 years.

Cedric Chin

Pro should shut up. Somehow, we have this notion that new technology replaces the old. But movies haven't replaced radio, TV hasn't replaced movies, Tivo hasn't replaced commercial TV, and the Internet hasn't replaced Tivo, TV, movies, or the radio. And both Borders and Barnes and Noble are doing quite fine, despite selling those non-electronic book things, thank you.

In other words, social-networking sites will not replace good old-fashioned face-to-face socializing, but co-exist with it. One person may prefer one method; the other may prefer another. This debate is a non-issue.

Mitchell

Undoubtedly, it has become a part of many people's daily lives. At the same time, if used as a tool, it can truly help build upon a network and reconnect with friends and colleagues. There are not any good business social networks I can think of except www.linkedin.com and www.sobitrade.com, a promising beta site personalizing companies and the employees who work for them.

I think social networking sites that mix business and personal use are not a good idea. Just imagine using Facebook or Myspace at the office and telling your boss it's for "work."

Mitchell

P

Doostang would be great if they didn't delete accounts at random and actually responded to e-mails asking for help.

Aurelius Tjin

Is LinkedIn better than MySpace and Facebook?

Antonietta

There are so many resources out there, and many abuse the power to use them effectively. Sure, social networks such as Facebook and Myspace are used to reconnect with friends and family. But they are also an essential tool for getting your business recognized. They are great places to place ads or comments about your business, because they are open to the public to view and maybe you will get some interested people. It can be used as a way to network with potential consumers. It is a perfect and inexpensive way to promote your business to the widest range of people globally. Like many things on the Internet, one needs to know how to use these tools in a positive manner rather than personal reasons.

Marsel

Online community sites will have a place as long as the Internet has a place in society. People will always use social networking
tools to find new friends, keep in touch with current friends, and express themselves. That is why we created a new social networking Web site, sociallive.com.

PNW Trojan

Like advertising is the only reason for the Web, this, too, is grossly overhyped. Tweens and teens--yep, quite a lot of spenders, but they are not the Holy Grail. Please grow up and find something a bit newsworthy.

Jorge

The social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace will never monetize promotional links, search links, and display ads the way the search, portal, and content sites do. When people go to social network sites, they are not looking to click on ads, and click away to another site. They are there to be social. The online ad paradigm doesn't apply for social networks. The only way I could see them working is for "word of mouth" and public relations type promotion. But unfortunately, companies who use the social networking forum will have a harder time measuring the effectiveness of that type of promotion. It's just not as measurable as banner clicks, and CPC, CPA, etc. just don't apply as measures of cost and effectiveness.

Barbara Dobrinsky Holtzman

To answer some questions: LinkedIn is better than MySpace and Facebook, especially if you can compare an apple with an orange. LinkedIn is much more business oriented. Facebook is more "fun," although I've not seen the actual fun myself, declining as I do to be bitten by vampires and such. There are others entering the fray, but I doubt they can catch up. A new service called Business Scene is trying to meld the offline/online segments with local events. Time will tell if that's fruitful.

Melinda

The best business alliances are forged when there's a really good idea. Using other tools to figure out who to work with, who to call for references, who can validate the opportunity or, conversely, show that it's not what it appears to be. These are all great reasons to reach out and talk to the fringe. Social networks help here because they're not directly linked to the stakeholders.

On the other hand, as a person looking to connect and leverage others, I believe these networks have fabulous potential. If only I had the time to take advantage of them...

m.n.chowdhary

I found India-specific indyarocks.com mobile social-networking site for all Indians across the globe is adding great value for establishing a new circle of friends and improving contacts. I am having a very good time spending and meeting many new friends from my country.

John T

It's like having 500 channels and not being able to find anything to watch. Sorry, no thanks. You'll never find my good name floating in some digital cesspool. How about fewer, but more meaningful, relationships? Maybe that's why folks sign up--to find that missing piece to their lives. I don't know. Sheer numbers? More than 100,000 folks have died in the last two weeks, many known only to God. Perhaps another 100,000 will die in the next two weeks. What does it all mean? It's only numbers.

Azan Khan

LinkedIn is good for one thing, jobs. Not thing more than that.

I agree with the comment above:

Ken Lubeck
August 17, 2007 04:22 PM

Social Networking sites are not focused on people doing business. LinkedIn may help you find a job, but that doesn't help consultants and the like.

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