People gravitate towards people like themselves. We all love people like us; anyone who is a bit different we tend to shy away from. It’s the same online – we tend to “hang out” in groups and clubs in places like Facebook and Ecademy where the people we meet are like us.
We measure that “likeness” is in several ways. We are constantly checking other people’s mores and values, for instance. But we are also on the lookout for similar interests. We are always looking for “things in common”; it’s rather like dating.
So, online in social networks we are constantly looking for groups and clubs that reflect our own interests. I have said this before, but people often say “Aha, but why is MySpace or Facebook so successful?”. After all these are general social networks, with little specific about them. The truth is these large social networks are only successful because they have so many special groups and clubs within them. Without such internal specialisation, these social networks would not exist.
There are increasing numbers of examples of successful, specialist online social networks. One excellent example is the Tax Advice Network run by Mark Lee. He said: “Joining the network is a wonderful way for professionals and specialists to collaborate, work when and where they want, and yet still be part of a community of like minded tax specialists.”
Clearly his members agree – almost 1,000 tax specialists and accountants are now subscribers to the site, indicating a real need for focused discussions and information. In addition to connecting with each other, the members get a free weekly tax update written especially for accountants in general practice.
And that’s the “trick”. It is no good just having a social network for your business and hoping people will use it. You have to fill it with information and provide such information free of charge. The Tax Advice Network is a clear example of the way ahead for online social networks. They need to be focused on specific audiences who have “things in common” and so will already have that likeability factor. Then such sites need to have specialist information, free of charge, to make people want to revisit and use the site.
Businesses that develop their own social networks within their niche areas and follow Mark Lee’s example will undoubtedly do well. But businesses who ignore social networking are going to find it much harder to survive in the future.That’s because we now expect it, we like it. And if we gravitate to people like ourselves, we will veer towards those businesses more like us – the ones who socialise.