Fast Company profiles social networks (and quotes Social Signal)

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You can catch some of Alex's thinking on social networks in the latest issue of Fast Company. It's part of a great piece by Anya Kamenetz on what social networks mean for business, government and social enterprises:

If your customers are satisfied, networks can help build fanatical loyalty; if not, they'll amplify every complaint until you do something about it. They are fund-raising platforms. They unify activists of every stripe, transforming an atomized mass of individuals with few resources into an international movement able to put multinational corporations and governments on the defensive. [...] They provide an authentic, peer-to-peer channel of communication that is far more credible than any corporate flackery. And all this after only four years or so in development. On the day you read this, a quarter of a million more people will jump onto MySpace, each with her own particular purpose in mind.

Kamenetz points out that companies and governments alike have every reason to take notice when social networks aggregate the opinions of thousands or even millions of people – people they might otherwise ignore.

Activists adopted these new technologies early on because the tools mesh perfectly with the goal of connecting and empowering individuals. "Those of us in online activism have been thinking about these issues for years," says Alexandra Samuel, head of Vancouver, British Columbia-based startup Social Signal. "Suddenly the tech world and the business world are interested in collaborating and building communities." [emphasis ours] Samuel wrote her 2004 poli-sci dissertation at Harvard on "hacktivists" who use legal and illegal means online to do things such as protest international trade agreements; her startup builds and grows customized online communities. And while her first clients were all nonprofits and government agencies, now she's getting approached by businesses, including Canada's largest credit union. "The name of the game now is to engage the user in creating value," she says.

Sometimes that value is economic and commercial; sometimes it's social or cultural; very often, it's unexpected (hello, Chevy Tahoe). The non-profits, governments and businesses that see the highest yields from that value will be the ones that don't fear their members, citizens and customers, but invite them into the boardroom.

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