The power of networking

Thursday, 29th March 2007 at 2:16 UTC 3 comments

My dissertation is taking up most of my time and I’m far too tired to write anything at length, but I thought I’d share some observations of social networking that I’ve made today. While my dissertation is quite heavily focused on the nature of networking (social and organisational rather than technological) between campaign groups and social movements and so forth, I’ve also found myself making mental notes on networking effects in society, especially that website.

I was in the pub today and it was interesting how many people popped up more than once in the conversation in very different contexts. In some cases, anyone listening in might not have spotted that two references implied the same person. The 4 people I was sat with knew people I knew, often in different contexts to the ones I knew them in. For instance, someone was described to me as part of the tech-team until I realised I could better place them in my mind as a member of the rowing team (the one who fell in the Ouse during the recent day of races in York!).

On-line things are getting even more interesting. We’ve restarted the whole term-dates thing, and are asking people to sign a petition to the new Vice Chancellor, to be handed to him once he’s arrived. As I pointed out today to someone, a year ago and petitions, poster campaigns and motions to general meetings were all we worried about. This year there’s been a huge reality shift, as something else has come along to take centre stage: Facebook.

No more do we create petitions and motions and leave it at that. Nowadays we create a Facebook group and use it to keep people updated. We called the group “We Want Our Holidays Back” and its now got 171 members in just 43 hours. When I set it up, my girlfriend and I both added all our Bradford friends to the group, making around 80 invites: its through the power of Facebook and people’s willingness to spend time inviting their friends that we’ve got this far in such a short period of time. What’s heartening is that there are still 91 people who haven’t responded to invitations (though not all will join).

Facebook has been seen as a rather threatening thing by certain people within our Union, but one thing that I hope will come out of this new campaign is an increase in awareness of how much Facebook, and other such sites, can contribute to communication and to spreading a message. If the message is worthy of being spread, of course people will spread it for you! And if the message is negative towards the Union, the Union must be prepared to listen and take on board the criticism. But overall, it should be a positive experience for the Union to be brought nearer to the students it serves. Facebook is all about getting out their and making friends, and thats something UBU sorely needs to get on with.

The other phenomena I’ve noticed of late is the more advanced group “The Unofficial Beach Party 2007“. For those who don’t know, the Beach Party was an annual Union end-of-year bash, but this year its been cancelled for various reasons. Instead, a group of friends have put their heads together and come up with the idea of doing a stripped down version on a shoestring. It turns out that DJ’s, a sound system, a bar and more can found for free if you ask nicely and if enough people join your facebook group, which in this case is around 490 right now.

With the knowledge that 400+ students were backing his plans, one of the organisers decided to speak with the Union General Manager and got the very sensible response that the Union would supply anything it could for free to make the event a success. Looks like it will be, even if only half that number turn up on the day.

Working with Facebook seems to actually increase your ability to spread ‘the word’ much farther than you would if you just emailed a bunch of people. People invite friends to things they feel are important. Thankfully, this is currently working for our term-dates group. The power of the network is tremendous; it may not always work the way you want it to, but it can just as easily be an asset.


Entry filed under: Activism, Culture, Participation, Social Networking, Technology, York.

Is Consensus just a rural thing? Remind me why we think they’re ours?

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Greg Melia  |  Thursday, 29th March 2007 at 17:53 UTC

    Facebook will have disappeared in 3 years, or be solely inhabited by 13 year olds.

    By the way, do you know what happened about this?

  • 2. Neil T.  |  Thursday, 29th March 2007 at 21:42 UTC

    To say the beach party has been ‘cancelled’ isn’t entirely true, it’s just that the union will be pursuing a different form of end-of-term celebration which isn’t so weather dependent and doesn’t require the amount of infrastructure – okay, sand – as the beach party would, thus saving money. Considering the union’s financial status – something I’m sure you’re all too aware of – it’s much less risky to hold an indoor event than have an expensive outdoor event that could be rained off, especially as the end of term is 3 weeks earlier this year.

  • 3. Graham Martin  |  Thursday, 29th March 2007 at 23:27 UTC

    Greg, I think the cool thing about Facebook is that the lack of customisation has meant that its really not appealing to that generation. I think that its quite likely that Facebook take up from the 13-18 category will rise, but that at the same time, take up amongst 25-40’s will also rise, and so it’ll be possible to avoid all the kids. Company networks will have a big part to play in this: if they take off, then Facebook will continue to hold a high-brow appeal, even if over a quarter of its users are annoying teenagers.

    Neil, I know there’s an alternative planned, and, tbh, I think both events will do fantastically, and both will make money for the Union. From what I can gather, Andy the Union General Manager is working with the Unofficial Guys to make their event a success, because he knows, even if certain exec members don’t, that the Union stands to gain a huge amount by being ‘nice’ to the Unofficial Beach Party.


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