Trying to explain network effects & motivations for using social media tools

picture-101I’m putting together a series of short guides for different clients on how to use social media tools in shared learning and online outreach. These will be a mash-up of my existing practical One Page Guides with a bit more theory on effective use of social tools.

One of the important bits of theory I want to try and get across is around network effects. Often the reasons given for using a given social media tool focus on the ways they are used once a network effect has kicked in: once, for example, lots of people have started following a Twitter account, or once a network of residents has grown big. However, when you start using a social media tool – particularly if your interests are in sectors other than technology (community music for example) – there is often a slow lead in before the network effect starts generating dividends from the time spent using the tool. Thus, it can be important to offer a different motivations model for using new social media tools.

You will probably notice, from the paragraph above, that I’ve not found a great way to communicate this point.. and I would really value your input.

Below is what I’ve written for one of the guides so far, but it’s much in need of a re-write. How could this be better said? Or should I be saying something else entirely?

Being open to the network effect

Many social media tools have a network effect. For each extra person who starts using them they become more useful (for example, the first telephone landlines had a big network effect – when only one person had a fixed line, it wasn’t all that useful a thing to own!). When you start using a new tools you may not have a ready-made network to join in on. If you focus on making new social media tools work well for you in your existing day-to-day work, then when the network effect kicks in it’s an added bonus.

For example, with social bookmarking, you can switch from saving your favourite links on your own computer (or scribbling down websites you must go back to look at on little scraps of paper), to using delicious to save them in a public online space. This is useful to you – as it means you can find your favourite links from any computer.

But it also brings a possible network effect. You might find people with shared interests who have bookmarked the same links as you. Or you may start to find a shared ‘tag’ to add to your bookmarks which helps you share information with an informal network of other users of the service.

If you start using a new tool only for the network effect, and you expect to get instant benefit from it – you may be disappointed. Networks are like communities, they take time to develop and grow. However, if you use a new social tool and weave it into your day-to-day practice, then you are sure to find a new connections, ideas and opportunities emerge over time.