Could paid connections be the future of social networking? [Net Prophet]

Social networking hasn’t quite lived up to its promise. It was supposed to flatten hierarchies and democratise networking. Theoretically, I’m just a few clicks and an email away from Richard Branson, so I should be able to have a conversation with him and do business.

How hopelessly naive. The reality is that social networks mirror life and it’s difficult to get the attention of busy, important people. Why? Because well-known and successful people have limited time and can’t possibly give attention to everyone and everything — and in fact the internet has made this even worse, not better.

It’s why the much-maligned “old boys” networks form — it’s purely a way of busy people coping with the busy, connected world and sticking to their immediate comfort zone networks. In many respects, you can’t blame the “old boys”, but it means that the right people are not being connected to the right ideas and “outsiders” can’t get in.

We’re so busy that in fact we hardly value social network or email connections… why? Well because it’s so easy to make a connection or send an email out to someone. This poses a problem for society, because it means that instead of the internet making it easier to meet people and be exposed to new ideas, it has ironically made it harder.

Here’s another problem: Social networks tend to encourage us to meet people like us, and we just end up meeting people around us that resemble ourselves as opposed to those outside our spheres of influence.

We know that the best ideas and most innovative startups emanate from when people are exposed to ideas outside their immediate networks. This is called an “asymmetric connection”. This is where innovation comes from: the combining of unusual ideas and disciplines.

But here’s the problem: Meeting people outside your network is difficult, especially if you need to meet someone further up the hierarchy or in an industry you have little track record in. In fact you are an “outsider” here. So what’s the solution?

OneLeap’s answer to encouraging social asymmetry

Robyn Scott is the Co-Founder of a UK-based business network startup called OneLeap which claims to have solved this very problem.

“We have made a business that allows us to tackle asymmetric connections — and to make it easier for outsiders to get in and make connections,” she says.

And here is how: it’s all about money. Should a person want to connect to another on OneLeap, the network requires payment, with most of the fee going to charity. When you add money into the mix, something very powerful happens — it changes the social dynamic of that online connection.

“You have to put up money to contact people, so they value it more, and they value that message more. They know that you are someone willing to put your money where your mouth is,” says Scott.

“It re-personalises online contact.”

Adding money to that connection makes a statement that you are serious about that connection and communication, and the recipient in turn knows this and takes it seriously. If only this was built into our day-to-day email too.

Scott says that this allows people to connect with others not “because of who you know and where you are from” but because you are serious about your business by putting money up for that connection. It ensures that the utopian ideal of the best ideas winning and coming through actually works.

According to Scott there have already been successes. For example, an entrepreneur in Africa who managed to find investors and journalists through OneLeap for his “economical car” or an adventurer successfully raising money to row around the South Pole.

It’s a clever approach in this information overloaded world where the cost of an email is nothing. Put money to it and it becomes something. Could this model be the future of online communication?

Matthew Buckland: Publisher


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