Friday, January 18, 2008

Social Networking Entreprenuerial Opportunities

Last Saturday, I was a panelist at the CalTech - Social Networks event. It was a really good event with lots of interesting folks in attendance. I would guess that there was about 100 people - on a Saturday in Pasadena. That shows some interest in the topic.

The presenters had some interesting things to say on a wide variety of topics. A post by Elrend Wilhelmsen discusses some of what was discussed.

My main points were:

Social Everywhere -

I work with a lot of different shapes and sizes of companies and it's interesting how each one has opportunities to leverage its users to form different kinds of communities, create connections, encourage contribution, etc. It is almost universal that there are opportunities around social networking. Generally these are oriented around:

Niches & Content Oriented Networks

You see all kinds of niche networks coming up. Outdoors, faith-based, etc. The current huge players (MySpace, Facebook, etc.) are broad spectrum. But the innovation right now is encouraging either segmentation within these larger players or via niche networks. Seeing what has happened on top of Ning is interesting. Lots of niches.

Content is often a defining mechanism to create these networks. Flickr,, YouTube all create social networks. However, this will also start to go into lots of niches around particular kinds of content.

Media & Brand Integration

There are also lots of interesting things happening where large media and large brands are trying to integrate with social networks. Obviously, there's a powerful combination when you can take a source of people (media) and combine it with an appropriate niche network and allow large brands who are interesting in reaching that audience. Lots of deals are going to be done in this way.

One of the examples that was discussed by one of the panelists was It was pointed to as an example of a social network. I am not that familiar with MyCoke, but I was bold enough to say that I thought "MyCoke got it wrong." My reaction to MyCoke is that they have some pretty good content on the site, e.g., some very listenable music, but the reality is that people are unlikely to really go spend much time in that destination as a separate island. Certainly, going and signing up for MyCoke is difficult. The destination should be something else with heavy integration of Coke branding. They clearly spent lots of time and effort, and the reward is just not going to be there for it. Which brings me to the other thing I discussed...

Big Challenge

There's a constant challenge that we continually face. We have a niche or content that we believe would inspire people (who are already out on social networks) to collaborate. Our choices for what we offer them all have major downsides:

1. Create a new destination

The big challenge whenever you create a new island that represents your community is that there's overhead for the people involved. It's is hard for people to justify the investment to integrate themselves into your community. Am I willing to establish myself again in this new environment? This barrier makes it hard to achieve critical mass.

2. Leverage an existing platform

We've created Facebook applications and used Ning. While this greatly reduces the effort for most users and gets you there more quickly, you don't really own this audience and it puts big limits on what you can do.

Certainly, what we are seeing with OpenSocial and DataPortability represents a possible future state where we can avoid some of this issue. If we could focus on building our "destination" on top of a set of open protocols that provide us with the social graph for users but that allows us to control our destiny, I believe that's the right model in most cases. It reduces friction for end-users and still gives us the leverage you want.

If you think about this abstractly, the goal is for all of us to provide grouping and content as a layer on top of a general social graph platform. Each of these destination represents a fluid grouping which is the most natural mechanism in a networked world.

The problem I have is that this isn't here today ... What do I do today? It's a big challenge...

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Secret for Networking at Events - Prenetworking

I've never been able to walk into a large group of people and feel like I can "work the room." Sure, I've read various articles on this stuff, but honestly, I still struggle with meeting interesting people. I seem to be very adept at meeting financial planners, attorneys, accountants, etc. - and after 10 seconds of conversation, I'm at a loss. I can make small talk with them, but unless I'm going to see this person a few times or unless they have a tech specialization, ummm, not the best use of time or energy.

Luckily, I've found a GREAT way to make my time spent at events much better. It's probably no secret to anyone else, but I've only started doing it about 6 months ago and the results have been fantastic. What do I do? I call it:


I spend about 30 minutes prior to the event going through the list of attendees and reaching out ahead of the event to suggest that we meet while we are there.

A few notes on this:

1. I try to do this roughly about 2-3 days ahead of the event. That way the list of people attending is fairly complete and there's still time for back and forth with the person.

2. I always make sure that there's at least 3 people attending that I want to meet prior to sending any notes. I had one situation where I sent a note only to find that was the only person I wanted to meet. Then I couldn't back out.

3. I have a right click option in my browser to search LinkedIn for anyone by name. I'm not even sure how this came to be, but it is a great way to get details on individuals when their profile is not detailed enough.

4. Many organizations, including a couple that I'm involved in, do not publish the attendee list ahead of time. I've generally stopped going to those events. There are enough events where I can prenetwork to 3-5 people who will be great to meet. Why chance going somewhere when I may not meet anyone that makes it worth my time.

5. Sometimes you can be creative to see a possible attendee list. Twistup3 is coming up here in LA, but doesn't appear to list attendees (btw, cmon Twistup, get with it). However, there's a Facebook group, a few presenter companies, that you can look through. You can also publish that you are considering going to the event on your Facebook profile and see if anyone comments on it.

For more discussions on networking and LinkedIn see Networking Events in Los Angeles and Southern California, Secret for Networking at Events – Prenetworking, Pre-network with LinkedIn, Local Event Organizers Need to Adopt Social Media.