This is the concluding part of what someone (I think @mikey3982) very generously described as a’series’ on networks. The earlier post that outlined the key ingredients for successful networks is here and the first post of implications for twitter Pt1 is here. I’d recommend looking at them if you’ve not already as this post very much follows on, reflecting on network theory and research and it’s implications for online social networking.
5) Develop strategies for network cohesion
The brilliant thing about twitter and facebook is that to a large extent they have removed the geographical, service and jurisdictional boundaries that physical networks face; they are also (obviously) a brilliant example of making use of IT to enhance performance amongst and between people. The suggestion to employ skilled boundary spanners made in the original research can probably be ignored, or reduced, if networks are able to support those members who do this naturally, and give them the time to do so.
On a personal level, I think that we would all do well to be a little objective about cohesiveness. It is all too easy to drown out dissenting voices or niggly doubts if you follow the masses and online social networking does allow for cohesive networks to form with relatively little effort – but without some of the checks and balances that would be afforded to a physical network, and/or to allow us to dismiss alternative views that don’t fit with our own ideas, or those of our followers, fans and network members.
6) Avoid mandated or imposed networks
So we know that networks need to be owned by members and not thrust upon them. I’m not aware of any mandatory use of twitter or facebook or more general discussion forums for that matter. Anyone know of any? I’m sure there are huge benefits to courses and work projects to have an associated group for a piece of work but presumably no-one can be forced to use them? Although I suspect where people are ‘heavily encouraged’ they might still be put off.
Years ago I was involved with establishing an email forum for Irish teachers of profoundly disabled children. This group had only recently started receiving education and so there weren’t many classes; teachers often worked in units attached to other mainstream or special schools. The forum was intended to support them with networking and ideas and resources. It took years for the forum to take off, with quite a lot of support and coaxing. I’ve often tried to identify why it took off when it did and to some extent I think it was once those of us who had been involved with promoting it took a step back and decided to let it sink or swim – I guess at that point the network of teachers really took over ownership of the forum.
7) Actively engage respected professional leaders who will promote the network to peers
I’ve got mixed feelings about this one as for me it ties into the re-tweet danger territory. I think it’s great to use influential people to support work (and if anyone wants to spread the word about www.changecards.org @changecards then please feel free to do so ;)), but I guess if something, a product or a service or a person, is good enough they will get found anyway…eventually.
I think there is a danger that people who can afford to ‘engage’ the influential get a better impact! In a way I personally would be happy with that if it was transparent – we have always been influenced by our friends and peers, but there is the potential for this to be something less transparent when we’re talking online, I think.
8) Avoid network capture
Capture can happen by one group or culture, for example either a professional elite, or a dominant organisational or discipline’s culture. I guess avoiding this depends on the purpose of the network.
Specifically in terms of online networking I think caution needs to be paid to inclusivity and ensuring that dominant voices don’t get overexposed. It can be really difficult to stand up against an assumed group norm (I’m going to have to write that groups blog post I think) and equally difficult to challenge or question someone who has thousands more followers to reassure them of their ideas. So we need to be aware that not everyone is equally comfortable with this way of communicating, and that not everyone has equal influence within any given network. I suppose the challenge is to not get sucked in and believe your own hype.
9) Maintain net worth
In terms of the traditional network theory, the advice was to respond to the needs of network members in such a way that the network remains relevant and worthwhile. Responsiveness is key to long term survival, in a nutshell as long as members feel that they gain ‘net worth’ from their involvement then they will stay.
For me this is equally true for twitter and facebook and other ways of online networking. As mentioned previously in relation to twitter culls, personally I have un-followed several people because they seem to have just gone off the boil or whatever reason I first had for following them is no longer met for me. I know I’ve lost people along the way, I think it’s one of the advantages of an online format is that you are not committing to anything more permanently than I’m interested now/you are interesting to me now.
I guess if I was speaking for a business I’d be slightly more concerned at such a relaxed approach to losing network members. I guess the secret is to keep what you offer your networks relevant and fresh …and also to engage with people. It’s all about the human connection.
10) Professionals in networks must provide the mandate to allow networks managers to manage and govern their activities
Arguably, the challenge to balance self-governance and management is less of an issue when networks are transparent. The traditional advice was to provide network members with the right incentives to regulate and govern the network. Hopefully the ease of online networking in 2010 will reduce the burden and governance gap as more individuals are themselves regulating, supporting and championing their own networks.
I’d love to know what you think about the key characteristics of successful networks and how these relate to online social networking. Whether the same rules apply or whether we need different, or additional ones. Please do leave a comment or talk to me on twitter. Please also leave a connection to any work in this area that myself, or people reading, might be interested in. Many thanks.