Social Networking is Dead

OK it’s not really dead. Actually, social networking is alive and well. And thriving.

The “networking” part is fine. It’s the “social” part that needs to be killed off–at least when discussing the idea to professionals who have no patience for the likes of MySpace and Facebook. Here’s the problem: those who are unfamiliar with the versatility and value of the features of social networking tend to be fixated with the word “social.”

Social, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, means “relating to or designed for activities in which people meet each other for pleasure.” So, it’s not surprising that busy lawyers generally cringe when the hear about social networking. <sarcasm> There’s just no room in most law firms for pleasure </sarcasm>.

This idea prompted the Twitter question, “is it really “social networking” if you use social networks for business reasons? Should we simply call it networking?

Bloggertweeter Nicole Black agreed that it should just be “networking.” Bloggertweeter Doug Cornelius had some thoughts, too.

And what about LinkedIn? It’s a networking site, but it is geared toward business networking. Steve Matthews reported that the number of lawyers on LinkedIn has increased by 98,000 in the last two months. Kevin O’Keefe pointed out that LinkedIn site traffic (unique visitors per month) is way up and that all major law firms have profiles on LinkedIn.

Those who are unfamiliar with it tend to lump together LinkedIn with MySpace and Facebook, but the focus is different. Kevin refers to LinkedIn as a “professional social network.” I kind of like that concept, but I am not completely sold. My gut feeling is still to strike “social” – but really only when the discussion involves those who don’t get it. And just in case my readers aren’t familiar with their work, Nicole, Doug, Steve, and Kevin all get it.

The Wall Street Journal ran a piece called Social Networking Goes Professional, back in August 2007. It describes how some doctors use social networks to share ideas about solving medical problems. When doctors connect with each other online (at a site called Sermo) to seek advice on a tricky diagnosis, it seems to be “all business” to me. There are social networking platforms that target lawyers, too (see e.g., LawLink and Legal OnRamp – Doug has written a lot about them.) Some of these social networking sites are a step in the right direction, but they attract those who already “get it.” Any lawyer who would join one of these sites doesn’t need to be convinced of the value of social networking. [Tangent: doctors and lawyers have no problem with social networking on the golf course, why the aversion to social networking online?]

Those who don’t get it may point to this IBM commercial, which features a Generation Y slacker employee wasting time on a social networking site. His boss points out that his networking is much too “social” and not enough about “business.”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obCHKPYHuhA&hl=en]

I really like that commercial. The implication, of course, is that IBM can provide solutions that harness the power of social networking and put it to business use. My fear, however, is that some people will use it as ammunition in their crusade against using technology to connect people – just because they think that the technology might be misused by the likes of the slacker.

What we must understand–and communicate–is the idea that it’s not the platform, but the way that you use it. For example, I started using Facebook (which was originally exclusively for college students) to connect with fellow legal KM folks for business networking. (I’ve slowly expanded my use of it to connect “socially,” as well.) There are several KM and technology groups on Facebook – for legal and other fields (see a short list below).

So, when trying to promote the features and benefits of social networking in your law firm or other organization, is it a good idea to dispense with the “social” and just focus on “networking?” Or maybe call it “business networking” or “online networking.” Please discuss in the comments.

Facebook Groups (please feel free to add more in the comments):

LawyerKM :: Knowledge Management & Technology for Lawyers and Law Firms

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