Education — the real "next big thing" in online social networking

Now that people are starting to get over the “gee whiz” factor of online social networks and starting to actually make productive use of them in a business sense, they’re also starting to realize that there’s more to using them effectively than the simple mechanics of using the site.

As an analogy, anyone who can type and is basically computer-literate can sit down and use Microsoft Word. But if you want to create winning sales proposals, then you probably need a little more help than the manual provides. And it’s not just the tool you need to learn, it’s the business processes around the tool.

The sites are starting to understand that, too.

Tribe has the Newbies Tribe, and a full-time member services person, Walter Thompson, who acts more like a guide than like tech support.

On Ryze, users help users. The Using Ryze Effectively and the Do you knead Ryze? networks offer peer support, with a lot of participation and guidance from more experienced users.

Ecademy has put together a substantial number of guides, including an excellent multimedia tutorial.

LinkedIn gets it, too. That’s why they’ve worked with me to develop a great curriculum for the LinkedIn Unleashed teleclass I’m giving on April 28.

This is, I believe, the “next big thing” in online social networking — not any new feature, or any new player in the space, or any radical new technology, but people learning how to deal with the very human aspects of interacting online more effectively to support each other in achieving their personal and professional goals. It doesn’t come naturally for everyone in the physical world—why should we expect it to online?

We’ve seen this pattern before with every major recent software trend: ERP, CRM, enterprise portals, content management, etc. One thing that is consistently true is that no matter how easy the software is to use, there’s still more to implementing it effectively than simply installing it. Why should we expect it to be any different with social software?