Closed Versus Open Social Networks

I’ve find myself in discussions about social media sharing models lately. It keeps coming up in the technology news as well. There have been some suggestions, especially from vendors, that one type, an open model, is the “best” for marketing purposes. I’m not at all convinced of that.

There are two distinct sharing models for social networks and social media. There is the open model – share with everyone – and the closed one where sharing is limited to only select people. There are hybrids, of course,  (nothing is pure anymore) but the dominant part of the  model is what drives user behavior.

The open, share-with-everyone model is how Twitter operates. Essentially, it is a broadcast distribution system designed to share as widely as possible. The key advantage is the reach of a message or content distributed this way. Since the message or content is made available to everyone who wants to receive it, they can be shared widely in a short period of time.

The closed model, favored by Facebook and LinkedIn, requires that participants specifically allow others to see messages and content by connecting with them ahead of time. Again, there are ways to have completely open sharing in these models. Facebook Pages are an example of this. That’s not, however   the dominant form of sharing and that affects behavior. The advantage of the closed, limited sharing model is that participants know something about the person generating messages and content. There is an implicit level of trust built into the system.

This is where I start to channel that AT&T commercial where there is an adult asking kids questions like “what is better, faster or slower?” Which is better for marketing then, trust or speed? Another way to look at it is as a quality versus quantity issue. Given that, the answer is (infuriatingly) “it depends.”

In open sharing systems such as Twitter, you don’t really choose who hears you. yes, you can block people but that is not the default nor what most participants want out of these open sharing systems. It’s this behavioral aspect that greatly affects how messages are dispersed  Simply put, open models encourage open behavior. Participants are just “putting it out there” and less worried about individual reactions . It’s a person’s own fault if they don’t like what they hear since the sender didn’t ask if they wanted to hear their message in the first place.

With closed systems, interactions only happen between people who have specifically chosen to do so. Both sides of the social transaction have to choose to accept messages from each other. That breeds an implicit trust that the other person is , at the very least,being truthful in what they post. If that trust is broken, the permission to interact can and often will be rescinded.

The model that is best for any given situation depends on what it is the marketing professional is trying to accomplish. To grab attention, fast and broad sharing is best. If much of the message or content falls on fallow ground, so what? It’s a number game. If the idea is to create deeper engagement, then trust is more important. For customer engagement, it is not enough to have people hear a message; they have to believe it. That’s much easier coming from a trusted source rather than an anonymous one.

Both models have their place, both deliver value. Each provides unique value which can be leveraged differently for marketing success.

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