3 in 1: social networking

The emergence of the personal brand | Is corporate social networking the equivalent of embarrassing dad dancing?| What’s the future of online privacy?

After a long period of social networking news being dominated by stellar valuations of Facebook, recent days have seen many reports about a flood of funding going to their competitors. So what’s turned the tide? Bebo is shutting down and Twitter’s 3000%+ growth has slowed to double digits. The answer is not external, it’s Facebook’s own hubris and failure to appreciate their members’ privacy concerns.

No doubt Facebook’s management are very well aware of the cautionary tale presented by MySpace. It was the dominant force in social networking and their position seemed unassailable too. Back in 2005 they were bought by Rupert Murdoch for $327m. Last summer it was forced to lay off a third of its staff after failing to meet the audience figures in an advertising deal with Google.

Privacy issues aren’t new to Facebook, they’ve had several past indiscretions. Over the years, Facebook has opened up access to more and more of its users’ information (see this fascinating infographic). The problem is that social networking isn’t just about your friends anymore. We’ve all seen the stories of people being caught out when they’ve claimed to be ill, or saying something derogatory about their company. And who would want their gran to see those photos from that big night out?

Social networking has created the personal brand. A great example of the dangers is the parliamentary candidate the Labour party ditched during the election due to some crude tweets sent as a student. I’m glad it didn’t exist when I was a student! But there are good examples too. Columnists such as David Mitchell (@RealDMitchell) and Victoria Coren (@VictoriaCoren) have become publicists, promoting their own work and by extension the publications in which they appear – the Guardian and Observer newspapers in this case. And it’s not just those in the media, tweeters and bloggers like Allen Kelly (@AllenKelly) of VeriSign mixes news on the security products offered by the company that he works for and personal opinions and updates.

And that’s good! Too many companies have felt obliged to have a social networking presence, but instead of learning the new media just mechanically churn out dull updates linking to their staid press releases. If you want to make a success of social networking, you have to have a genuine commitment to engaging with your audience. This has to have executive support as social networking needs to be timely, it can’t be subject to a laborious approval process. You can just tweet/facebook links to your website, but that’s no more than an RSS feed. Give your presence a personality, have an opinion, and you’ll see much better results.

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