There are no friends in business

When social networking applications first emerged, they were seen as a way for people to connect more easily with others. Love, fellowship and general goodness were supposed to follow. And they did, to some extent, as we ran around friending others.

Now, though, with corporations getting their tentacles into social networking sites, the concept of global friending is going south mighty fast. Corporations are trying to leverage customers’ social networks in order to sell more.

All that’s going to be small potatoes pretty soon, I realized, as I sat listening to CEO and chairman Marc Benioff at Dreamforce 2008, the annual user event, today. The company’s tying up with Facebook, and that will let companies “build a new class of business applications that leverage the social graph,” he said.

Think of being able to collaborate on Facebook to build a project with your friends, Marc continued. Yep, think about it, especially with Facebook COO Cheryl Sandberg gushing on the one hand that her site has “taken the power of real trust, real user privacy controls, and made it possible for people to be their authentic selves online,” then saying on the other that businesses using Facebook want to use the site’s power to engage in a deeper way with constituents.

And how will they engage in a deeper way with said constituents? Well, children, by leveraging users’ social networks, that’s how. Here’s what Marc said about building apps and running them on Facebook: “You have immediate access to 120 million users (that’s how many Facebook has now), and you can use Facebook Connect to link into any Web site in the world and let users use the power of their Facebook friends.”

I feel empowered already! Let me say now, unequivocally, that anyone who tries to send me a sales message because s/he is my friend on a social networking site, will rapidly be unfriended. Friends don’t try to sell friends life insurance, or used cars, or cleaning cloths; business acquaintances do.

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