When does a social network become too successful?


If someone had told me two years ago I would be using Twitter as my personal daily newswire, I doubt I would have believed them.

But these days it’s the first thing I look at when I wake up. Where did I first hear about the Japan earthquake, or the death of Osama bin Laden? You guessed it.

Twitter also tells me about the businesses that are important in my media universe, and the sports I follow for my personal one.

Like most people who aren’t Mark Zuckerberg or Biz Stone, I’m more than a little stunned by the stellar rise of social media. LinkedIn, Facebook (with its back story now the subject of an Oscar-nominated film, no less) and Twitter have fast become communications channels in their own right.

But now this market is edging toward maturity, we are getting a clearer picture of where the cracks might appear.

Is the ubiquity of social networking verging on intrusive? Are we starting to lose our respect for privacy? Does the immediacy of a social network channel – the very thing that fuelled its growth – start to undermine it once a tipping point of popularity has been reached? I am no longer on Facebook – too many requests for ‘friends’ to sift through – and my LinkedIn profile is now looked after by my PA.

Even if it finds a way to stay relevant and personal once its membership numbers hit eight, nine or 10 figures, such channels face the temptation to generate ever-increasing income – a point not missed by the writers of The Social Network. Once a channel becomes a marketing tool instead of a social network, it can only be on a slippery slope.

The next two years will no doubt throw up further seismic shifts in the social media sector. Anyone care to make any predictions?

  • Martin Thomas

    The way you are starting to segment your use of social media – like you I don’t use Facebook for business – is becoming typical and is a sign of our maturing understanding of how social media can add value to our lives. For most of the past few years it has been about the three ‘Ts’ – technology, trivia and tactics, whereas the next few years will be about real ‘game changing’ applications.

  • Keith Geddes

    People I know that are technophobes rib me about being on line so much, but facebook is a pain.. people using it like they used to ham radio.. yes, people checking their mobiles every five seconds.. well.. the net is very useful and my connection to the world, friends and relatives. MySpace is ok when it behaves, but.. my one argument is where it would have taken weeks to know I`ve been defrauded bank wise, it happened once.. on line I know every day.. and can report it so.. isnt that important? Social networks, fine, but the right to comment on news usually ends up with people calling each other names. What a waste of technology.

  • Hugh Salmon

    I am not sure I can make predictions. But I can say your ‘no longer use of Facebook’ may, dare I say it, be a generational thing. My kids certainly use it as a default messenger service, rather than email. And if they are in a Group such as a sports club, they will respond far more quickly to Facebook messages than email.
    For what is worth, I can for see this will be how Facebook is used increasingly into the future. ‘Tittle- tattle’ will be on Twitter although, as you have said, Twitter is the lead medium for very important current issues and, as such, carries a huge polarity of trivia v important issues. It will be interesting to see how this polarity of content develops over time.

  • Keith McMean

    I am not sure how you can say that Facebook isn’t for business as some of the worlds biggest brands are using it quite successfully and even though most will think its for the kids given the correct strategy it can certainly work for the majority of businesses.
    I use Twitter for quick updates on the business and LinkedIn as a CRM, this works for me. :)

  • Mark Butcher

    Good question. Ben, I think you’re probably ahead of the curve, and your social media behaviour is thus interesting. The majority are still in linking up phase and then watching mostly meaningless drivel arrive on thier smart phones or nothing at all. There’s a tsunami of content coming our way at which point we too will take for cover and seek more fragmented and bespoke networks and applications, The next big thing? How about LunchedIn ? Crazy idea where business people go out for lunch and talk face to face, informally, have the difficult conversations, be creative etc. Wouldnt catch on would it?