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IBM and Social Networks

Written by: Bill Sherman on Tuesday, 2 September 2008, 6:30 AM

IBM’s clever commercial around social networks left me laughing, because it presents two extreme misunderstandings of social networks and social capital. While IBM wants us to laugh at the young man’s approach to social networking, the executive woman seems equally naive.

Most people, still don’t “get it.” Social networking is only the foundation for social capital. It’s not a magic bullet.

IBM wants us to laugh at the young man’s”point and click” approach to social networking.  He’s accumulated some 826 friends and claims that he can find anyone. (Hang on to the word “find,” we’ll come back to it very soon. Yet, he’s making an attempt to build his social network before he needs it. He just needs to make sure that he doesn’t just rely on LinkedIn and Facebook for his social networking. He actually has to connect with people in meaningful ways.

When the executive woman smugly issues her challenge of “10 international experts who know merger arbitrage, speak Cantonese, and can hit the ground running Monday,” the young man blanches (and rightly so). He doesn’t have any friends like that. The woman’s challenge mistakenly treats an immediate, highly-specific tactical business need as if it were a social networking challenge.

If she needs those 10 people by Monday, she needs to talk to either:

  • A boutique consultancy with an international M&A specialty
  • A large consultancy with deep bench strength
  • A seasoned specialist recruiter

The executive should also be ready to pay top-dollar for her short-notice request. However, a relationship with someone in one of these companies could help achieve the goal.

“When you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Not all immediate tactical needs can be met through social networking solutions. The executive spins and leaves.

The young man probably could find anyone. If you have a decent LinkedIn network, you’ll be amazed by the diversity of roles within your 3rd level contacts. But, would the young man be able to mobilize his connection to meet the “by-Monday” need? Nope, not a chance.

The young man’s mistake: don’t confuse # of connections with quality of connections.

The executive’s mistake: unless you’ve invested time in building your network and your social capital, you’re unlikely to be able to solve immediate needs.

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