A few years ago, the idea of gathering online to meet people who shared your passions seemed weird, because, for one thing the conception was you’d only find other geeks online. But these days, more and more people from different demographics are going online through social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook – sites where people create their own profiles, add other users to their list of friends, and share photos. But lately, online social networking has taken another step and has been moving offline into the “real world,” with people using these sites in new ways to recruit businesses, employees and in some cases philanthropic donations.
In a very short time, social networking has been redefined beyond its initial scope of just being a way to keep in touch with family and friends. For one thing, legitimate news organizations are now keeping an eye on online social networks as they’ve become an alternative source for news. Some social networks are even consistently “outscooping” traditional media outlets when it comes to the latest news. The viral success of social networks speaks to the fact that social networking has become mainstream and that it’s no longer the domain of the geeks and the teenagers. It’s Ironic really, since a few years ago social networking was considered just another online fad.
One quick look at the recent social networking map and you’ll find sites that target different demographics, from sites like LinkedIn that focuses more on business networking to sites like Eons for the Baby Boomers. Recently we’ve seen the rise of small, niche-driven social networking sites that cater to such topics as pet ownership and cake baking. As for the bigger social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, there are interest groups that you can join to talk about your common interests. It’s interesting that, after building up to monstrous sizes, social networks are scaling down and focusing. Due to this fact, there is really something out there for everyone.
What’s really remarkable, however, is that these online social network connections are now moving offline, with people meeting their online ‘friends’ in the “real world.” With the prevalence of Tweetups (for Twitter-based friends) and sites like Meetup.com, we’re in the midst of watching the online world prove that it is an effective way to mobilize people who share interests to gather offline.
Let’s take me, for instance. I’m a big Star Wars fan, so when the prequel trilogy rolled in, I was interested to meet individuals who shared the same kind of passion that I have for Star Wars. To make a long story short, what started out as a small Yahoo! Group of Filipino Star Wars fans that I helped begin turned into the Philippines’ biggest, internationally-recognized, George Lucas-approved Star Wars fan group. We see from my example that online-based groups can and have gained real world clout (and yes, we do wear costumes to many real world events). With local, user-generated groups gaining international clout and credibility, it’s really not surprising to find companies now using what was once a “kid’s tool” as their new medium to spread the word about their products and/or services, or even to recruit more people into their fold.
The benefit isn’t only to the companies themselves, but also the employees of the companies. Due to social networks like LinkedIn, today’s business executives can now network online, and even use LinkedIn to check the background of their new contacts. In a way, LinkedIn, and its European counterpart, Xing, is becoming the business card of the internet.
Artists (particularly musicians) have also benefited significantly through the use of social networking since they now have a medium to let their work be heard, and hopefully, attract the attention of record executives. As a matter of fact, some music industry insiders are even calling this shift of focus “industry changing.” Gone are the days of playing in clubs, hoping to be seen by record executives, or shopping around for a record deal by giving away demo tapes. After all, why go through all that hassle when you can just create a profile on a social networking site like MySpace, upload some of your songs, promote your MySpace page at events, and let people stream your music from it? It’s faster and definitely more cost-effective for up-and-coming but still-penniless artists.
The biggest surprise to me is that non-profit groups have turned to social networking to raise awareness, and funds for their causes. If philanthropy gathers people behind different causes, then social networking is really the logical next step in the advancement of those causes. That way, it becomes a definite win-win situation for not only the non-profit organization and the donor, but of course, the beneficiaries.
Even with these examples of social networks affecting people in real ways, many critics of social network marketing base their argument on the ephemeral qualities of social networks and the fact that these social sites don’t “do anything”. Might this be an example of the old guard protecting its turf from the new wave? Those same critics will soon need new arguments.
Patrick Everett Tadeo is PandemicBlog’s eyes and ears in the Philippines and Asia. This is Patrick’s first post at PandemicBlog, subscribe to our feed to hear more from him.