Sunday, February 5, 2012

Social Networking: A group of friends or reaching out to new people?

As social media has become increasingly trendy the terminology has become a gray area. My discussion focuses on Facebook, LinkedIn and Social Networking. However it is my belief that there is a difference between social networking sites and social networks. If you ask me, I think that Facebook and LinkedIn are social networks. Most people use these websites to connect solely with people they know offline. There are some people that might connect with people they know online but it's usually after getting to know the person. I think that this is different from Social Networking. And this is also why I don't categorize Twitter, Tumblr and other similar sites with Facebook and LinkedIn.

Social Networks are different than social networking sites because on the latter you are not joining to connect with your friends. You might be connected to people you know "in real life" but your message is intended to go beyond your inner circle. Many people or brands use Twitter to broadcast messages that they want shared outside of their friends, the use it to interract with people across the globe, many of whom they do not know. Many people feel a little insecure when they receive a Facebook friend request or a LinkedIn request from someone they've never met, heard of or spoken to. People are much less likely to feel as squeamish when they are followed on Twitter or Tumblr by someone they don't know.

It is my opinion that you use social networks to foster and enhance your relationships whereas you use social networking to expand your connections.

In the service industry both social networks and social networking come in handy. Facebook and LinkedIn allow company followers to have access to exclusive content and feel as thoughthey are an insider. They can comment on stories, photos, discussion etc. and on these sites (specifically Facebook) people who don't know each other get the chance to interract if they have interest in the same brand. Liking a brand or company page on Facebook automatically bring people that don't know each other together on a common ground. And that's how Facebook throws its hat into the social networking game (by going beyond a social network). Twitter on the other hand allows people to connect with the brands and companies that they like but not with each other as easily. This is what makes them different. Twitter and similar sites allow for networking between the customer and the brand. The networking between fans is not as organic.

Why don't people see the difference between social networks and social networking sites? How can Hospitality brands and companies leverage these two different kinds of sites to foster their customer network and increase the conversation between their fans?