Should I Build a Social Network?

Social networking sites have really generated a lot of buzz over the past year or so.  There are always new social networking sites popping up on a regular basis.  The question is should I build a social network?  On the surface the short answer would be “no”.  Why would you want to compete with the likes of Facebook or MySpace?

Several questions need to be answered before an answer should be given:

  • Does my organization have something unique to offer?
  • Would my organization be trying to compete with established social networks?
  • What benefits would a “home grown” social network have over existing ones?
  • Do we have the resources required to maintain our own social network?
  • Do our users frequent only one social network or several?
  • What will happen if all our time and efforts are invested in building a social network and the platform fails?

I have thought about these questions as I begin to forge ahead to develop the strategy for our higher education institution’s online presence.  My answers to these questions have led me to the decision that we should implement our own social network.  Let me follow that statement of with a caveat – I don’t believe that we should program our own social network from scratch, but utilize an existing platform.  One we are considering is Web Synergy from Sun Microsystems.  This application is based on the open source application called Liferay.

I see our online community acting as a social network hub.  Yes, I see the college social network providing some functionality (i.e. blogs, wikis, document sharing), but I also see great advantages in leveraging already established social neworking sites like Flickr and YouTube.  These social network sites that we leverage or allow users to leverage by pulling various tools through widgets will truly cause the College social network to act as a hub.  If one of the social network sites that we leverage fails and disappears, we replace that “spoke” with a new social network that is similar – thus keeping the College core social network stable.

In conclusion, I would encourage you to consider the questions I posed above before jumping into any decision making.  There are a plethora of social network sites to leverage.  Maybe your answers will lead you to investing all your efforts into developing a community in Facebook, Ning, or some other “flavor of the week” social network.  Bottom line: it’s not cut and dry.  Do your homework, weigh the pros and cons, and move forward.

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  • Janine

    Hey, Mike, I'm seeing this much later. Did you go with Web Synergy? We're looking at Yammer.

  • Mike McCready

    We haven't moved much on our internal network. It is looking like we will go with the portal from Datatel so it can sync directly with our student information system. I've also been experimenting with Yammer with a few folks around campus. I would be interested to see how Yammer works out for your campus. Thanks for the comment.

  • james frey

    Mike — here is a great little synopsis at
    It basically makes the case for “smart” social media. Too often everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon and not do it because of any kind of thoughtful approach — case in point the Alberta government has a “blog” called Your Alberta. Supposedly the Premier has entires but I know they are written by his handlers. The other entries are purely PR fluff to try to use the blog as another communications vehicle. Sigh.