Posted by: LYF | August 13, 2008

When social networking doesn’t work

Tools vs. Strategy

Web 2.0 and social networking are tools, they are not strategies. I think a lot of people are confusing the former for the latter. Since there are so many books on web 2.0 – The Pirates Dillema, Here Comes Everybody, Wikinomics, The Starfish and the Spider etc. – I’ve found that many people are making the assumption that applying these concepts to any situation constitutes strategic thinking. Even worse, that creating a social network will immediately foster collaboration and innovation, which in turn will lead to higher profits. That’s a giant leap in logic.

Networking applications work best when they allow people to make sincere connections with one another. You can’t fake this sincerity and expect your network to foster collaboration. People just don’t work that way.

Moreover, networks need to adhere to social norms that are already in place. So taking an existing corporate culture and shimmying it into any old social network won’t work. At most it will waste a lot of money and frustrate a lot of people.

Here are some examples of what I’m talking about. And I want to be clear, I’m not even the first person to talk about this. I’ve just been hearing about this problem lately, so when I see a clear example of it I stop and take note.

Blue Collar Comedy – Funny or Die

Funny or Die was created by Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Chris Henchy. Their site allows people to upload all sorts of funny clips. What’s really cool is that a lot of celebrities and comedians post videos to the site as well. Afterward people vote on the videos – essentially the videos are either funny or die.

The execs at funny or die thought that their format was their strategy. They then tried to use a similar platform to promote blue collar comedy. I guess the thinking was funney or die + blue collar comedy = money. But it’s not that simple, considering the site was taken down. The demographic that blue collar comedy targets, is not the same group of internet savy 20 somethings who make funny or die successful. So the site was destined to fail.

The people at funny or die did not understand the social norms of the blue collar comedy audience. These aren’t the people who are going to go online to watch funny videos and comment on clips.

Deloitte’s D Street

I know a bunch of people who work for Deloitte. From the conversations I’ve had, working at Deloitte can often resemble a love hate relationship. The opportunities are great, but the amount of hours you have to work can be daunting. Below is a byproduct of this meme.

The last form of slavery in the US. This is where many young people begin careers and work 115 hours a week until they either quit or die from exhaustion. Former Deloitte employees often have scarred backs from the whip marks.
“Dave has no social life because he works at Deloitte.”

This is the first definition of Deloitte at Running parallel to this problem is the fact that most employees use Green Dot Life as a way to connect with each other, which operates outside of the corporation. In order to kill two birds with one stone Deloitte decided to create D’Street and internalize these two issues. This is an excerpt from an article I found talking about D’Street. This is a classic example of confusing tools with strategy.

“by enabling connections among employees, the company could more easily offer flexible work arrangements, establish virtual teams, bring new employees up to speed, improve collaboration and increase retention among people who hadn’t felt a strong sense of belonging.”

That comment sounds like a typical answer on an H/R exam – fluff mixed with buzz words.

It’s still too early to tell if this network will be successful. But its success will depend on how well the network appeals to the culture already in place and whether it can create meaningful relationships between employees. I’m really curious to see how this plays out

A Counting School – Hardcore Chartered Accountancy

This last example is my favorite, because it is the personification of “you can’t fake sincerity.”

This blog offers practical advice for aspiring chartered accountants on everything from interview skills to how to request time off. The author has been doing this for a number of years. I have even emailed him asking for advice on multiple occasions and topics. He’s a fantastic resource to have and I’m glad he took the time to actually respond to my e-mails. So when I read the title of his last post –I got banned by PwC, for offering UFE case writing tips – I was somewhat shocked.

After commenting on an article, whose primary focus was “to submit ideas on how to improve PwC Connect” he received the following comment.

thank you for all of your comments, but unfortunately I will not be posting them as we don’t feel as though they are relevant or appropriate
to the subject matter.
Thanks for being a loyal reader however, and take care!

This was his comment, which was later removed.

“Yes, PwC Connect will do as a title – it’s good and all, but “awesome”? How exactly does it maintain “creativity and professionalism”? I don’t want to shoot down the fine concept, only to challenge your writing: there’s only so much that a name can accomplish. Your argument or compliment will be much stronger if you offer logical support for your position instead of just making naked statements. Keep this advice in mind and it’ll help you greatly as you prepare for the UFE down the road.”

How can you invite critisim and then censor it? That does not make sense.

This is what I mean when I say “you can’t fake sincerity.”

Hopefully these examples will become fewer in the future.


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