Setting of a mild firestorm, Forrester Research analyst Jeremiah Owyang posed an important question on his blog recently: Should brands Join or Build their own Social Networks?
It's an odd concept for a brand to *join* a social network, and several observers took Owyang to task for it, including popular blogger Doc Searls:
the notion of “brands” either “building” or “joining” social networks strikes me as inherently promotional in either case, and therefore compromised as a “social” effort. Speaking personally, I wouldn’t join a social network any brand built, and I wouldn’t want any brand trying to join one I built. But that’s just me. Your socializing may vary.
At the same time, social networks like Facebook have built entire programs around the idea of "brands" building their own Facebook pages in order to participate in the social network process.
And beyond that, a slew of vendors, including Ning, Flux, Me.com, Crowdvine, People Aggregator and others provide tools for companies to very easily build their own social networks (much like companies have built their own online forums or blogs today).
Exactly how businesses -- including your small business -- fit into the social network universe will be an important trend to watch in 2008.