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Facebook and Fish Gills: The “Working” Part of Social Networking

Not long ago, I was on a plane, giving some serious thought to the business applications of Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Twitter.  I was thinking about business, but the subject I kept returning to was fish gills.

It was my 12th grade biology teacher, Mr. Williams, who posed the question: “Why are gills deeply ridged, almost like the pages of a book, rather than smooth?”  The answer was “surface area.”  A gill’s sole function is to absorb as much oxygen from the water as possible — just like lungs in a human.  The more ridges, the greater amount of surface area.  The greater amount of surface area, the greater the exposure to oxygen — all packed into a confined space.  Which brings us back to the social networking sites.

Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Twitter are all about exposure to the outside environment.  The greater a person’s participation, the more friends, fans, followers and connections.  From a business standpoint, exposure to potential customers out there in the environment equates to one’s surface area.   

But it’s not just surface area that matters.  For the organism to thrive, gills must be exposed to the proper environment.  A fresh water fish will die in salt water.  Similarly, large scale exposure of a business to a community of non-buyers will result in noteriety, not success.

And that’s the question facing businesses, my own included — how can a business ensure that its social networking initiatives gain exposure to the right environment?

I welcome your thoughts.