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Forums, Social Networks, or Facebook?

Forums, Private social networks (like Ning), and Facebook all have slightly different tones. If you are wanting to create a social environment around your ideas or passions, which should you choose?

Forums: Forums are really the first form of social networking... extensions of the old BBS days. Back then, computers were more about sharing information and less about relationship. Users don't have a "profile" or a page about themselves. They are simply represented by a name (usually a pseudonym) and maybe a picture or icon. The information posted that is posted stays around later and can be searched, making a forum a great resource for experts who have gathered and contributed to them. While forums do provide a place for interacting with each other, the center focus is information sharing. I have seen true, amazing friendship happen in a forum, but those relationships are built primarily upon what is said in a group.

Use a forum if you are interested in idea or information sharing where the center of the social environment is what people say and where searching old information is important.

Private Social Networks: The main thing that distinguishes a forum and a private social network is the profile page. When people join, they don't just put in name and go, they invest by creating a robust representation of themselves. They can tell others about their interests, put up multiple pictures, add music, and even have a discussion that is entirely on their profile page. The effect of this is that the information and ideas become a little less important, but the people there are better represented. Creating profiles and returning regularly to the site may be a lot of work for some people, so they need to be pretty passionate and want the relationships around your organization or they won't keep returning and invest.

Use a Private Social Network if your people are passionate enough to take time and fully express themselves and will return again and again to journey with others.

Facebook: Facebook starts with the profiles already in place. The center is even more about the person and not the discussions. Old information disappears quickly and isn't easily searchable, so it is not helpful at all with archiving. The result is more of a casual association and less of the deep, real "hash-it-out" kind of discussions and relationship building.

Use a Facebook page to gather people that are more casually associated with you. The information you pass on through Facebook should be current and you should allow for light engagement with the people involved.

You may choose to use two... or all three... types of social environments. But understand the differences so you can use the right tools for the right effect.