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Social networking expanding to business world

When folks hear ‘social networking‘ they often think of social sites MySpace and FaceBook. No more, per New York Time’s Brad Stone. Social networking for businesses and corporations is upon us.

Silicon Valley giant Cisco, the networking equipment manufacturer with 55,000 employees, has acquired Tribe.net, a social networking site, and Five Across, a platform for social networking and communities. The implications per Stone:

…the deal[s] will give Cisco the technology to help large corporate clients create services resembling MySpace or YouTube to bring their customers together online. And that ambition highlights a significant shift in the way companies and entrepreneurs are thinking about social networks.

And it appears Cisco is just riding the trend.

Social networks are sprouting on the Internet these days like wild mushrooms. In the last few months, organizations as dissimilar as the Portland Trailblazers, the University of South Carolina and Nike have gotten their own social Web sites up and running, with the help of companies that specialize in building social networks. Last month, Senator Barack Obama unveiled My.BarackObama.com, a social network created for his presidential campaign by the political consulting firm Blue State Digital.

Many of these new online communities cater to niche interests. Shelfari, a Seattle-based start-up, recently began a service to let book lovers share their opinions. This week it received an investment from Amazon.com.

As the founder of Prairielaw.com, a law community of lay people and lawyers sold to LexisNexis, I can tell you getting a critical mass of community members is no easy chore. You need some passionate users and evangelists. Not necessarily an easy chore for large corporations.

As Stone reports, “Google helped Nike design its soccer community site, called Joga.com, but it does not appear to have significantly attracted users.”

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