“The social network community is on the verge of a monumental shift in which many of the networks that are in existence today will not be around tomorrow.
By evolving beyond their technological origins, the core survivors will avoid the fate of the early lights, who like SixDegrees.com are destined to fade into historic insignifigance in much the same manner that CP/M ceded to the DOS platform in the early days of the personal computer.”
From The White Paper “The Unsociable Business of Social Networks” (By Jon Hansen, Release Date January 2009)
The following is an excerpt from a PI Q&A response posted not that long ago:
As outlined in an overview of my latest seminar, “Social Networking and the Procurement Professional of the Future,” I express surprise that very few supply chain professionals know about Social Networking. Although there is a periphery understanding through mainstream brands, only 10% of my audiences are familiar with the term “Social Network.” And an even smaller percent, understands the impact that Social Networks can and do have on their profession both individually and collectively.
The fact that Social Networks initiate, develop and will ultimately define relationships in the 21st century means that this emerging “medium” will play an important role in effective supply chain practice. As a result it is imperative that associations take the lead in terms of educating and empowering the supply chain professional to both compete and excel in an increasingly globalized marketplace.”
For the uninitiated, the social network concept was orginally designed to bring together individuals who shared similar interests and activities starting with the now pedestrian Classmates.com in 1995, and the innovative (perhaps ahead of its time) SixDegrees.com in 1997. And while developments ranging from Miller and Buckley’s Friend of a Friend (FOAF) standard to Berners-Lee present day semantic-based Web 3.0 as well as the soon to emerge Web 4.0 platforms are noteworthy, it is ultimately the user experience that will determine which networks will make the generational transition versus those that will fade into footnote obscurity.
And it is for this very reason that Ecademy’s Thomas Power’s deeply rooted, almost obsessive focus on membership interest and experience has placed his UK-based social network on the firm foundation of sustainable membership growth and active user participation. To be succinct, it is not a join and forget proposition.
Numbers Do Not Tell The Story
In a recent article that referenced the tremendous success of Virginia’s eVA initiative, I indicated that a key element of the program’s effectiveness was linked to the Commonwealth’s ability to effectively engage rather than merely increase the number of registered suppliers. While eVA’s introduction stimulated an increase in supplier registrations from 20,000 in 2001 to 34,000 in 2007, the most telling statistic was the increase in the distribution of contracts over the entire supply base. Specifically, the number of suppliers that won business increased from approximately 23% in 2001 to more than 45% in 2007. This is of course indicative of a dynamic and sustainable supply model.
The registration versus active engagement principle is also a key indcator of the viability and even the survivability of a social network. And like those of us who chose the Beta format over the VHS format (and no, I am in the latter group, not the former), investing your time and energy in building a network of contacts on a platform of creeping obsolecence is tantamount to building a house on a foundation of sand.
For the experienced social network user, this is of course an important consideration, which takes on even greater signifigance for the novice user or first time visitor.
A Network Is Only As Strong As Its Weakest “Links”
In my research for the white paper “The Unsociable Business of Social Networks,” I had the opportunity to talk with a great many people concerning their “user experience” with a variety of sites. An interesting observation is that many of these individuals belonged to multiple networks, thus giving them a broader perspective in terms of their assessment.
In one such exchange, a senior representative from the Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) Direct Member Support group inidcated that they “really don’t find that Marzar.com is beneficial,” and that “it seemed stale.”
Citing a busy travel schedule, which made it “tough for him to maintain” his group on multiple networks, an internationally recognized expert in the Supply Chain consulting field indicated that he was contemplating a move to a single platform, and as a result would likely shut down his CollectiveX forum.
The question of course is why are these individual links of a much larger chain (nee network) so important? If you have read Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,” you will undoubtedly note his reference to the term the“Law of the Few.” In the Law of the Few, Gladwell maintains that “the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social skills.” Comprised of Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen, these centers of influence or “agents of change” play a critical role in the success or failure of an idea, product or behavior. And yes, even the success of a social network.
For those of you who are part of my reagular readership, you already know that an important tenet of the Procurement Insights Sponsorship Program (which includes these profiles) is my total commitment to neutrality. In assessing the viability of the Ecademy value proposition, it will be up to you to determine how they may be of service to your organization. And as is the case with all sponsors, I will direct you to the Link To Our Sponsors section of the PI Blog to investigate their network in greater detail, and at your own convenience.
With the offical disclaimer out of the way, and based on my review of the Contact MC 2008 report “Quantitative User Originated Data – Website User Profile,” some interesting figures were presented that tell an equally compelling story. (Note: to access the report in its entirety refer to the Sponsor Presentations Section.)
Ecademy website users are very loyal to the site, with 82% accessing the site at least once a month. 64.8% make a point of visiting at least once per week – and a large proportion (nearly a third) every day.
Of the 8.8% of users visiting for the first time, almost 81.7% are likely or very likely to visit again. This suggests a high degree of satisfaction with the site.
Nearly three-quarters of Ecademy users stated that they spent more time engaged in online business networking in 2007 compared to the previous year.
These statistics go to the very heart of the active engagement principle that is so crucial to sustainable success (remember the “stale” comment regarding one network site).
Not surprisingly, these as well as the other findings from the Contact MC Report are reflected in the overall popularity of the site as illustrated by the following statement:
Ecademy is the most popular online networking site among members with 14% more visitors than its nearest rival, LinkedIn. Two-thirds of Ecademy users also visit Facebook but other listed networking sites were all visited by less than half of users.
I recently joined Ecademy as a means of measuring the user experience on a personal or first hand basis. Understanding that a good percentage of my research over the years centered on what eventually became the Web 4.0 architecture, I was initially impressed with the basic but effective intuitive engagement capability of the network. Within a matter of seconds after joining, I was immediately linked to other Canadian-based users. Shortly thereafter I began receiving in-mails from other Ecademy members who upon introducing themselves offered assistance in terms of maximizing my user experience. A sort of network welcome wagon if you will.
Besides helping me to get off to a good start, what this proactive community action suggests is that Power’s commitment to the membership experience has taken hold in a big way. The result is a dynamic, interactive network where the opportunities for connecting and doing business are firing on all cylinders.
Once again, and relative to the question of generating tangible revenue opportunities, the Contact MC Report’s findings are illuminating.
A fifth of Ecademy users get between 10% and 50% of their new business from online business networking. A further 10.7% stated that they get more than 50% of their business from this source.
As I am often retained by individual supply chain professionals to assist them in establishing an on-line presence, as well as organizations who want to leverage the social networking platform as an internal collaborative vehicle through the creation of private forums or groups, one of my main objectives is to select the right social network.
Based on the results of the Contact MC Report, Ecademy would appear to be a wise choice.
To reserve an advanced copy of the The Unsociable Business of Social Networks, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with the words “Social Paper” in the subject line.
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