At the center of the Social Web and the shared activities that define it are the online personas of participants: More than with prior anonymous discussion boards or cloaked personas, it’s an actual identity that is of value in a business context, since it is generally the motivation of an individual to be noticed as such that drives social participation in the first place.
Though detailed personal information is (still) generally not available except to “trusted friends” or colleagues, the use of a real name or photo in one’s social profile is becoming common. Along with any optionally provided information, the result is a basis for understanding who it is that is actually participating.
So it follows that in an online network, without a robust profile—the central carrier of visible identity—the act of sharing is relatively shallow. Participants in older forums and discussion boards, often lacking a more formal or detailed description of who was who, based identity on little more than a signature and then augmented that by studying writing style or specific interests of various members, and by doing so slowly pieced together an understanding of who the other participants were.
People are social, and they will seek to sort out social order in nearly any situation. Ultimately, it is the relationships and the interactions they facilitate that drive successful social business applications.
The Profile as a Social Connector
Taken together, the significance of the profile is its central role in establishing who is participating. When people have that basic information, they will more readily enter into functional relationships and share or transfer useful knowledge.
This is, of course, the primary objective in building a social business or supporting application. By connecting the organization with its stakeholders—whether a business and its customers or a nonprofit and its members—social profiles form the basis for an accountable, productive relationship.
Premiere Global: A Practical Example of Profiles
In my experience working with Atlanta-based Premiere Global (PGi) on the implementation of a community, the role of the social profile in activating and sustaining the community is particularly instructive as regards the role of the profile in a community application. This particular project—a developer’s community built around PGi’s communications API—was intended to bring independent developers and internal PGi experts together in a collaborative venue that would spur the development of new and innovative communications applications.
The Profile and the Social Graph
Understanding the construction of the social graph in the context of the profiles (people) collecting around your brand is essential in creating an organic social presence. Go back to the core challenge of effective participation on the Social Web: How do you participate without being branded as a “self-interested only.”
Your firm or organization needs to assert its relevance and then deliver through utility, emotion, or gained knowledge some sort of tangible value if it is to develop a strong bond with your customers that outlast contests, advertising spending, and other direct incentives aimed at driving early involvement with the online social presence of the brand, product, or service.
Taking the four basic building blocks together—consumption, duration, creation, and collaboration—one possible model (there are many) for driving engagement emerges. Engagement can be tapped for marketing purposes by anchoring it within the context of the basic social structures—communities, social applications, and similar—and then connecting these back to your brand, product, or service. In this section, social applications are the focus.
Social applications such as The Good Guide bring visibility to the larger business process and with it an entirely new set of considerations that reach across departments and functions. This is the dawn of the social business. If you are looking to enable more of your organization in the creation of favorable conversations, this is the starting point.