Debate: Does Social Networking foster real ties or not?

Summary: A question I raised on whether social networking is the future of word of mouth marketing has gotten close to a 100 answers (both on LinkedIn Answers and MarketingProfs) — Business Week debates whether social networking fosters real relationships — Let’s debate (Disclosure: I work at LinkedIn)

Click above images to take you to the respective Q&A pages

Let’s get confrontational! One of my recent posts on MarketingProfs and a connected question on LinkedIn Answers has been getting a fair deal of buzz, interest and participation from both LinkedIn users as well as Mprofs readers (links below)

Q: Is Social Networking the future of Word of Mouth Marketing? (via LinkedIn Answers)| 44 Answers in a week

Marketers viewpoints on the above question (via MarketingProfs) | 25 comments

Actually, today, Business Week Online had a debate on a slightly related topic, so I thought I’ll briefly revive the debate/discussion (whatever you call). Earlier today, Business Week’s debate room featured a fascinating question on human behavior with regards to social networks. I paraphrase:

Are social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace weak substitutes for making and cementing real business relationships in person?

Pro: Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting (by Jenna Goudreau)

Summary: Social-networking sites prove more of a distraction than a tool. The inundation of friend requests and insignificant news feeds on sites like Facebook eat up valuable time that could be spent solidifying contacts in person. “The most effective networking is face to face,” says Stanford business professor Jeffrey Pfeffer. “There’s no substitute for real human contact. It’s less personal online.”

Con: There’s no substitute for a social networking tool (by Erica Pelzek)

Summary: Back in 1974, sociologist Mark Granovetter’s “Getting a Job” study revealed that 56% of people found their jobs through personal connections—even if they qualified as only “weak ties.” Today the Internet makes these connections easier to strengthen. Furthermore, most recruiters search Google (GOOG) or Facebook and other networking sites for people before agreeing to interview them.

(Source: All quotes from Business Week Online’s Debate Room)

My take: I’m one of the many who’s super enthused by the state of social networking today, because IMHO this could change the way we interact with one another. My personal objective is to try and add people based on face to face or blog interactions for the most part. I’m guilty of some omissions too as I’m sure most of are. Here’s something to think about.

Dunbar’s number, which is 150, represents a theoretical maximum number of individuals with whom a set of people can maintain a social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who each person is and how each person relates socially to every other person.[1] Group sizes larger than this generally require more restricted rules, laws, and enforced policies and regulations to maintain a stable cohesion. Dunbar’s number is a significant value in sociology and anthropology. Proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, it indicates the “cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships”. Dunbar theorizes that “this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size … the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.” (Source: Wikipedia)

So, let me end with another question (s). So, (a) have social networks redefined the Dunbar number, or (b) are we randomly adding connections beyond our “cognitive ability to maintain stable relationships” or (c) have we added “more restricted rules, laws, and enforced policies and regulations to maintain a stable cohesion”… Whoa!

What do YOU think?

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  1. LOTD: 8/16/07 – Chris Thilk

    […] media as part of your corporate communications plan. Mario’s also wondering whether there are real connections that are being facilitated using social networks. […]

  2. Kristen

    I think social networking is a must in this day and age purely for the reason that the demands on business are higher. We definitely have to step outside of our 150 person Dunbar number and develop more connections if just for the fact that they may only be that-a connection. The relationships come later with face to face interaction but in business simple connections are the ground work for success.

  3. links for 2007-08-21

    […] Debate: Does Social Networking foster real ties or not? (tags: social networking relationships) […]

  4. Mario Sundar

    I think social networks is a great supplement to first life as you rightly point out.

  5. damon billian

    Nothing beats interaction in “first life”. But I do find social networking to be awesome tool for keeping in contact w/people I don’t see on a daily basis & a great way to connect to folks I haven’t seen in years.

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