why join a social network?

I have just been sent a link by a colleague that I thought might be useful. It is an article of comments by professionals on social networking, and the comment below is from an RSA Fellow, Julie Howell. The article can be found here

 In a nutshell, she says that conventional social networking sites are of little interest and without some 'added value' over and above the opportunity to meet and greet she would rarely use them.

So that may be where membership organisations come in. The ability to offer social networking with the added bonus of... initiating community projects, professional and personal development, skills sharing... the list could be pretty long.

Good Point

Good Point

Social networking and disabled people

Hello again,

 Just wanted to add that I chaired a panel debate at a conference last Friday that was hosted by the disability technology charity AbilityNet http://www.abilitynet.org.uk

The subject was disabled people's access to and participation in social networking.  Many social networks and social utilities are not very accessible to disabled people and as a result many of those who could benefit most are left out in the cold.

I'm also chair of a BSI technical committee that's about to produce a new British Standard for web accessibility. Given the times in which we live, access to social networking must be an essential theme within this (though we've yet to decide on the content of the standard at time of writing).  Do keep an eye on those developements as whatever RSA decides to do, access for disabled people should be considered a crucial element.


Julie Howell

Director of Accessibility, Fortune Cookie


I heart social networking

At risk of sounding even more pompous...!

I'm suprised Dave found my comments in .net offensive. I am as connected as I want to be 'in my professional life' which was the context of the question .net put to me.  My personal preference is to use the web for some types of networking, use conferences for other types and other media for other types. I don't see how this makes me pompous. It is a fact that I am very well connected because I make rich use of the networking tools that are available to me online as well as offline.  You are right that collectively our goal is to help others be similarly connected. This is why I'm an RSA Fellow.  This is why I've run an online community for people with MS for 13 years and I devote any energy left over from that to helping others get networked. If I've somehow caused offence, that's a shame and not my intention!  I really do heart social networking...

re: I heart social networking

Julie (Dave) - maybe your exchange highlights how difficult it still is to get shared understanding online! Several general points emerged for me from this and some of the .net contributions (hope I'm not overinterpreting):

  1. the need to distinguish personal social networking (which may be face-to-face, phone and/or online) from social networking sites online ... and these from communities or (social) networks as systems that may operate across many boundaries
  2. personal preferences - which may relate to personality type, preferred communciation style - influence how and how far people network
  3. even when people have high personal networking skills, and technical skills, they may choose not to use various online sites or facilities

I think it re-inforces the point made a few time here, that understanding people as well as tools, systems etc is crucial. It reminds me I should go back and take a look at the A-Zs of social media and networking I did with others a while back over on the social media wiki. Any thoughts, other resources, help would be welcome.

Good lord

I found that little snippet from Julie one of the most pompous things I have read in an awfully long time. I am pleased for her that she is so enourmously well connected that she has no need for social networks!

Now we can get on and do stuff that makes things better for the rest of us! 

re: good lord

Maybe we need to help people make the distinction between social networking "sites" and social networking using whatever tools, wherever appropriate.


Julie had the good nature to respond to my abuse with an email which was remarkably conciliatory given how mean I was, and by the sound of things, you are right David. The .net piece probably took a fairly narrow view of social networking.

As I said to Julie in my response to her, the value in online social networking might be in managing connections rather than creating new ones all the time.

re: why join a social network?

Laura - I think that's a really useful insight: tools on their own aren't any use ... it's what you do with them that matters. It's the same with social networks.

If you want to find new people for sociability ... then a site that enables you to find and connect with new people you might like is useful. If you want to share professional insights, tackle problems within a defined domain then a community of practice may be appropriate. You may want it to be restricted.

If you want to connect with people across different domains, professions, countries, to work on issues and problems that may come up in different guises in different places, then you probably need to be in a number of different online places using a mix of tools: Facebook groups, blogs, Twitter, wikis etc.

So the challenge for a membership organisation is to reflect on what it wishes to offer its members that is special, and how to enhance that with tools that are most appropriate. For example, if they have joined up mainly for low-cost insurance, letters after their name and specialist services, they may not be much interested in social networking of whatever type. If they want to meet other people like them (in the organisation) then mixing events and networking online could make sense.

The challenge for RSA, for example, is that it may wish to offer a mix of people like us - Fellows - networking, additional services ... and also project development that involves others outside the Fellowship. That may mean a set of tools that are partly in-house behind a login, and partly out on the Net.

The key issues - as usual - are what does the organisation wish to achieve, what does the user want, and then what tools are appropriate. Start with people and purpose, then go to tools - whether social networks or not. What's probably a mistake is just to assume that the organisation knows what members want, that everything currently is fine, and just build out from the current model of activity into the online world. RSA isn't making those assumptions - which is why it is such an interesting and challenging experiment in my view.

However, I would add that in my view the greatest chance of success will come if the staff, governing body and members are all part of a real co-design process ... not just a consultation exercise. That throws up issues of governance and control that may be challenging to the culture of the organisation. Social media should push the organisation to reflect upon who it is for.