<B>Say goodbye to golf clubs!</B>

Fernando Jiménez Rodríguez. MBA Coordinator of the E-Business Department. Instituto de Empresa

18 October 2004

A new, easier and undoubtedly cheaper method of making and maintaining business contacts

The nightmare is over. You no longer need to know what a birdie is or have a good handicap. Even better, you can forget your checked plus-fours and those horrendous golf shoes. At last, you can put your clubs away and bid your caddie farewell! In fact, if you want to make contacts or rub shoulders with successful investors, executives, businessmen or entrepreneurs, you don’t even have to join a golf club any more, or become a member of an elitist horseback-riding club. All you need is a computer connected to the Internet and the new world of contacts is at your feet. Social networks are here!

The idea of a social network is simple: it consists of a website where a group of people indicate their interests, experience and training, offering or requiring contacts with other people interested in contacting them. When you wish to connect with a member of the network, you send a message saying who you are and why you are interested in communicating with them. They can then accept or reject the contact, which offers protection from unwanted calls.

The possibilities offered by this model are far from negligible. First of all, the global reach of the medium makes it possible to contact people all over the world. Another advantage is the capacity for discriminating contacts in accordance with the subject matter. For example, if you’re interested in finding investors for a project, you select only people who are interested in financing projects. You can even differentiate their risk profile, geographical area, sectors of interest, know-how and experience in the sector. But the most important advantage is the low cost and the ease with which the contact network can be maintained. Companies spend huge sums of money on their networks and often lose important contacts due to geographical problems, professional changes, etc. It is true that replacing a personal contact with virtual contact is not easy (I’d say impossible), but it is clear that it is much easier to maintain connections if there is a constant and permanent link with them, albeit of the virtual kind, which is better than none at all.

For a social network to be of interest, it must have a significant number of members. It is obvious that the higher the quality and quantity of contacts, the more interesting it is to join. That’s why these networks’ business models are still undefined. First, they have to reach a critical mass. This is much easier if the entry barriers, such as payment or advertising, are removed. But let’s not be naïve: sooner or later there will be a fixed fee per contact or per member (perhaps less probable), or the all-free-in-exchange-for-advertising model will be applied. Companies are currently studying the various possibilities, bearing their members very much in mind, since their success depends exclusively on their capacity for attracting and keeping the best and most select group of people.

From a critical point of view, social networks may pose a significant problem. I have already said that to make a new contact, the person you want to reach has to accept. This authorization will be based on the information you provide, with the potential security problems this could include: not only false information, but also impersonation of identities, illegally obtaining information or fraud. It might be a better idea for the network itself to authenticate the information, or at least its author.

Making predictions is never easy. Who knows if social networks will fulfill our expectations or fail miserably? Whatever happens, I have put my golf clubs away, just in case.


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