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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Using Social Media as a Cover

It is impressive to me that the realm of social media and social networks has moved from lighthearted and trendy to a mainstream research at leading educational institutions in such a short period of time. Then again, college campuses are the perfect seedbed for social media -- demographically, intellectually and socially. But the real impetus for research in a capitalist world is in trying to tame this amorphous beast and turn it into a cash generator. Enter business school research...

Research by Mikolaj Jan Piskorski, an associate professor in the Strategy unit at Harvard Business School begins to bring some definition to Social Media that is useful to understand, and I'm going to spend a couple of blogs on this just to keep it in digestible chunks.

Piskorski's research shows how we use social media, which tools we prefer and why. It also shines some new light on an "old" standby.

Piskorski says "Online social networks are most useful when they address real failures in the operation of offline network." In other words, social media lets us do things online that we can't do as easily offline: keeping up with friends, asking for help or references, making information about yourself available passively so that a recruiter might be looking to fill a position with someone of your experience -- even if you are not overtly looking for a job.

But the research is even more revealing. Do you know the killer app of social networks?

Tah dah....Pictures!

That's right. Piskorski's research shows that 70% of all actions are related to viewing pictures or viewing other people's profiles. Now, this part gets down to some very basic human activities, but it is useful for marketers to know: According to the research, "The biggest usage categories are men looking at women they don't know, followed by men looking at women they do know. Women look at other women they know. Overall, women receive two-thirds of all page views!"

This was a very big surprise to Piskorski. "A lot of guys in relationships are looking at women they don't know," he said. "It's an easy way to see if anyone might be a better match."

Passively allowing headhunters to find us. Quietly looking for a better relationship... These are examples of how people use social media and social networks as a "cover."

But what happens if a company decides to apply the same logic?

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