With all of the chatter flying around about how much Facebook is worth, or how many “users” are needed (or how many “matter”) within an online social network, my head is starting to hurt. It is easy to get caught up in all of that sort of thing.
After a long period of soul searching, I have finally come to a very important realization (and conclusion) on the real value of a social network.
A social network is only as valuable as the service that sits on top of it.
I deal with a lot of early stage entrepreneurs, some of whom are dabbling in the online social networking space. Many of them struggle to get a handle on what their compelling value proposition is (or will be.) I should know – I was one of them.
Building a successful social network is not about aggregating eyeballs, traffic, or Google ad dollars. It is about aggregating user participation, while simultaneously altering behavior. If a social network isn’t setting out to alter behavior, then I am convinced that they will have a long battle ahead of them. Merely facilitating existing behaviors is probably not going to be enough.
It isn’t about bringing enough people together who will view your ads. It isn’t about bringing enough people together so you can eventually sell to Google. It isn’t about bringing enough people together so they can “connect with their friends.” But rather …
Can you bring enough people together who want to leverage your technology to introduce an efficiency into an area of their lives in a way that will have a significant impact?
The social network should be viewed as the “vehicle” for the real star of your show – rather than being the main attraction in and of itself. Connecting people for the sake of connecting people is passe. So 2003. Why are you connecting people? What are they sharing? More importantly – how will these connections and sharing patterns affect their businesses? Their lives?
The question isn’t “what is the value of the social network as a business?” It should be “what is the value of the social network to the business?” There is a very important distinction.