Are your online and offline networks separate entities?

This is a follow-up to the pre-WEC webinar post on the WEC closing general session on social networks. See this session and all of the other great content MPI offered up here.

The focus of Nicholas Christakis’s research was interesting. He spoke about how the people in your network (up to three degrees of separation) can affect whether or not you are likely to be obese, altruistic, or get enough sleep. Christakis called them Real Social Networks and made a very stark contrast to online social networks. It was clear that years of scientific research went into his research on offline social networks but the example he offered on why online social networks are not effective was not as well researched. The online social networks he studied were related to friends, clubs and roommates in school. I would argue that if you study someone’s social network in school vs. 10+ years after they have graduated, the data will be much different. Most of the audience at WEC, I would assume, is in this category.

His main argument against online social networks was an example where Alyssa Milano tweeted about his book and subsequently sales went down (although he only showed one day after the tweet). The example he gave proves the power of online social networks. People who follow Alyssa Milano on twitter are probably not the same people that would buy his book, and furthermore, if a potential purchaser of his book saw that Alyssa Milano tweeted about it, they might think twice about buying the book! It would have been more interesting to get the stats from Alyssa directly about how many of her followers shared that tweet and what the actual reach of that post was. If you are curious about this kind of data, check out CrowdBooster.

Here are Christakis’s tips for exploiting online network interactions: interactions must be real or feel real, something must be at stake, leaders and followers are both needed. This last point resonates with me. I have been tracking the ways the twitter conversation has changed at WEC over the past four years. The idea that you need a certain number of people who follow the conversation and are not trying to get any glory from it is a valid point. We have to remember that when we are tracking the ROI of social media at an event, we have an unknown number of people who are viewing the tweets and not actively participating in the conversation online.

I don’t typically agree with Douglas Rushkoff’s position on social networking, but I wish he would share one point in particular with Nicholas Christakis. He predicted that the professionalization of our personal lives will grow to the point of people knowing you as a brand. I believe this is the future of social networking and Christakis should expand his research to include more of this type of data. Did you know that you can create your own social network graph just like the ones that Christakis showed on his slides? Check out InMaps from LinkedIn Labs. This point was made clear to me a few years ago and that is why I named my blog: Personal Branding For Gen X and Boomers. Your online presence is your personal brand and the longer you wait to create a positive image, the more opportunities you are missing out on.

Rushkoff says that once everyone is on Facebook, people will leave. I guess that “accumulating” friends is part of the fun if you do what I do and create relationships with people you have not met. That is the power of the online social networks vs. offline. It seems that Christakis would argue that you can’t create a “real” connection with someone you have never met in person. Admittedly, it is more difficult to sustain an online-only relationship on Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn and that is why Face to Face events are important opportunities for meeting those people. However, I believe that the network that makes up my three degrees of connections online affects me in many of the same ways that Christakis’s research showed us.

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