Online Social Networks, Virtual Communities, Enterprises, and Information Professionals

By Reid, Mike; Gray, Christian | Searcher, July-August 2007 | Go to article overview

Online Social Networks, Virtual Communities, Enterprises, and Information Professionals


Reid, Mike, Gray, Christian, Searcher


Part 1. Past and Present

Most organizations ... ours included ... are just beginning to experiment with meaningful social networking. What will it take for most of us to make the transition from business-as-usual ... to business in a wired-in world of online social networking where our personal, professional, and corporate online reputations are critical to success? First and foremost ... I believe it will take the unique knowledge ... experience ... and vision of information professionals like you.

Janice LaChance Chief Executive Officer Special Libraries Association

Building on its 10,000,000th new member, the business-centered, online social network LinkedIn adds more than 10 new members every minute (1); MySpace adds more than 150 new members every minute. (2) "This is a revolutionary new approach to knowledge exchange. With these tools, we have the benefit of access to everyone's brain working on a problem," says Charles Chaney, president and CEO of Biomedical Engineering Central [http://www.bmecentral.com]. Online social networking software allows users to discover, extend, manage, and leverage their personal networks online. As defined by Microsoft's Social Computing Group, a virtual community is "a gathering of people in an online space where individuals come together to connect, interact, and get to know each other better over time." We will use these definitions here. We will focus on the use of these tools for professionals working in organizations and institutions. We will not focus on consumer-oriented social networking services such as YouTube and MySpace, though the impact and interaction between consumer use of these new tools does affect enterprise use.

This article is the first in a series of three that will explore the history and dramatic growth of online social networks and the implications of that growth for information professionals. In this "Past and Present" contribution, we intend to set the stage for the series, to explain the phenomenon and its historical underpinnings, and to define terms. The second article, entitled "Stories," will include true stories about organizations and individuals who have deployed or used social networking software or virtual communities; the third, "Applications," will survey leading companies and recommend tools and processes for information professionals.

Information Professionals: Ideal Champions

The field of social networks and virtual communities is new, relatively unstructured, and very dynamic. Organizations everywhere are struggling to understand and benefit from it. These attributes make this new field an ideal environment for an information professional to ply his or her trade. If information professionals embrace the burgeoning field of online social networking and virtual community building for their organizations, the authors believe they will be in a unique position to bring order to chaos. By applying traditional skills of finding, evaluating, organizing, and applying information to meet organization needs--in this case, people-centric information--the resulting personal and professional benefits for the information professional could include the following:

* Being viewed as a causal force delivering economic value to the organization

* Being viewed as the driver for properly applying the new technologies

* Stronger personal marketability and branding inside and outside the organization

* A positive new employer-independent online reputation * Learning a set of highly transferable new skills

For many information professionals, career survival means continually finding new ways to add value to the organization and realizing a more direct impact on strategic goals and the bottom line. As noted by Kim Dority in her recent book, Rethinking Information Work (Libraries Unlimited, 2006), "porting existing skill sets into new opportunities" is critical to a resilient information career. …

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