Metcalfe's Law and Network Promotion

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Metcalfe’s Law and Network Promotion

I’ve had a couple of conversations recently involving social network marketing. One of the things that has been on my mind lately is network size. With social networks and social media, once your network reaches a certain size or focus, it has value in and of itself. Ask Chris Brogan to mention something to his network on Twitter and a lot of people mobilize. Ask Mitch Joel about public speaking in your area and chances are he knows someone. Ask Bryan Person about social media breakfasts.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s guerrilla marketing, using all kinds of interesting tricks to build audience using the pre-gathered crowds common to the most popular social networks.

The catch is this: the tools that you use to get your network off the ground – MySpace tools, LinkedIn clubs, etc. – are the very same tools that can be detrimental to your network as it matures. The risks of having an account closed due to skirting terms of service (ask Scoble about Facebook) rise proportionally to network size and value. The larger, more mature network you have, the less risk you want to take.

The big question is: when is it enough? When do you know that a network has matured to the point where loss of it due to guerrilla marketing would be counterproductive? Sure, a few thousand friends on MySpace takes time to replace, but when is the network really an asset you can’t afford to lose?

I would argue that it’s Metcalfe’s Law that will guide us. Metcalfe’s Law operates in a network such that every new entrant to the network proportionally increases the value for all participants. The classic example is the fax machine. One fax machine in the world is an expensive doorstop. A thousand fax machines has value. A million has significant value, and every person who buys a fax machine increases the value of fax machines everywhere.

When do you know when to hang up your guerrilla hat? When your network becomes self-sustaining. When people are joining your network for the value of the network itself, in the form of unsolicited friend requests in a steady stream, when advertisers start coming to you to ask for your help in promoting something to your network. When Metcalfe’s Law kicks in and people invite others to your network because the value of the network increases with their presence. Hang up the guerrilla hat on that network and start a new one that lets you continue to experiment with bleeding edge tools.


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