Will Social Networks Trump Traditional Networks In The Future?

NetworksOne of the people I’m following on Twitter (who shall remain nameless) recently commented: “Prefer getting updates from my friends via Twitter. Much more efficient and I don’t need to see them.”  Hmmm….

I don’t know about you, but even though I love Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, yada, yada, I still really like getting together with my college buddies, grad school buddies, fellow DC Web Women, fellow volunteers for Doorways, etc.. Yes, it’s “efficient” to get updates from friends in far away lands via their social network pages, and I have strengthened ties with folks via Twitter and FB, but will my social networks ever trump my traditional networks?

I don’t think so.

A recent article in The Economist maintains that “(o)ld-style networks… are usually stronger than online ones, , and the trust between their members facilitates transactions of all sorts.”  Transactions like doing business together, hiring staff, and lending money.

For me, however, it’s not a black and white issue.  Here’s what I think is happening:

  • Family networks will probably trump all networks because “blood is thicker than water” although we all know that families are also our craziest and most dysfunctional networks.
  • School, fraternity and work networks will remain the strongest because these are ties that get developed over time and involve shared efforts. So for me, my Stanford and Matrix Group networks will continue to be my strongest networks.
  • Offline networks that involved shared interests will remain strong because members have a common interest. These networks, however, will be expanded to include online members.  In fact, I expect these networks to be strengthened by the ability to connect with others worldwide, in different languages.
  • Increasingly, we will use our online and offline networks to make connections for work and play. For example, I may access the SAIS alumni network for a contact at the White House, but once  find a contact, I will continue to mine that person’s network through LinkedIn and Facebook.
  • Across all our online networks, we will likely target a few people with whom we will establish a meaningful offline relationship. I have “met” and networked with dozens of people through Twitter but I have singled out a few for further cultivation and even a face to face meet up.
  • We will rely more and more on our social networks to initiate and nurture our relationships. My school (grade school, high school, college and grad school) friends are all over the world.  Where I would have relied on phone calls, letters and emails to stay in touch in the past, I now use FB to stay connected and certainly connect with more people on a regular basis through social networks.

I actually feel that my offline networks are enhanced by the addition of online network capabilities.  And I love being able to share stories, photos and videos with family and friends in one fell swoop.

How about you?  How would you rate the strength of your traditional vs. online networks?  How are they competing or complementing each others?  Which is stronger?

3 thoughts on “Will Social Networks Trump Traditional Networks In The Future?

  1. I agree that “IRL” networks will always remain stronger and will continue to be an integral part of life as we know it, I think it’s just how we’re “wired”. If you go on facebook and look at the pictures that people post, they are usually of friends doing things out in the world, not people sitting at their keyboard. All the action in life happens offline.

    On the other hand, I do believe people will continue to get onboard with social networking and continue to farm up more and more contacts. People will have a higher number of online “weaker” friends, but there will always be a core family in friends that are based on real life. Social networks allow me to see what my extended family members are up to on a daily basis, a level of contact that I have never had with them before, and that is awesome. It is, indeed, helping me enhance my relationships.


  2. I agree that my offline networks are enhanced by using social networks. Often times, I think of a good friend or family member’s status updates or tweets as a teaser to a conversation we will have later over dinner. I had a conversation with a friend the other day that noted, “Sometimes during the day, when i am busy with work, kids, paying bills etc. it is easier to send a quick email, or status update on Facebook to a friend, when there is not enough time to have a lengthy conversation, but that doesn’t mean I won’t give them a hug in person later.”

    When I was going to school in Belgium, it was impossible to see friends and family back in the U.S., and with the six hour time difference, it was nearly impossible to talk on the phone, so I relied on social networks, IM and email to stay in touch.

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