Any product or service should fulfil a function or solve a problem. This is one of the biggest 'rules' out there which businesses must pay attention to or be doomed to failure (unless they are extremely lucky). I would also, however, apply the same rule to anything we do within social media.
Jim Tobin at Ignite Social Media has posted advice on creating new social networks with products like Ning. Ning itself provides a valid service - the ability for user to create their own social networks for free - but this does not mean that the end result will be valid. Too many people create a network just because they can with little thought, time or customisation. Without due care and attention these cannot hope to become anything other than just another social network (JASN).
If a network or service is not catered towards a specific need then it cannot hope to succeed unless it too is extremely lucky. It must offer 'value' over every other upstart social network out there. The same can be said of blogs.
A blog should offer value if it doesn't want to become lost in the ether but, what is value? Value is the differentiator between something and everything else out there in the same niche or on the same subject etc. Value is the reason you would want to read/use/consume something over all the rest. It is a new twist, extra information or an insightful opinion.
Louis Gray controversially stated that bloggers don't add value, only services do. He argues that "Web services are adding real value to the Web by changing the way we interact and communicate" whereas bloggers are not. This definition of value is too shallow. Value can encompass so much more and a good blogger can even influence the web services, both their creation and development. We can all be influencers. What is more valuable, the final product or the spark that was responsible for it's creation?
I read recently that bloggers should not see other bloggers as their direct competition but should foster a sense of cooperation in order to increase exposure but I disagree. With the millions of blogs out there all vying for a slice of attention we are definitely in direct competition with those others bloggers in our chosen area and should ask ourselves why someone would want to chose our content over that on another site.
What makes us different? What gives us the edge over those who just rehash the same story without an original spin or opinion?
I blog in such a way as to start discussion - I have questions and opinions but not always answers but believe that these opinions and the questions I ask offer value in their own right. Rather than tow the line I constantly think how I can shake things up a little and get people thinking as that creates the most value of all. Why just agree with everyone else when you can be the boy who shouts "But he has nothing on" when presented with the emperor's new clothes.
Your life online (and to a degree your offline one) is dictated by your personal brand: how others see you based on what you do and say - and we should do everything we can to boost the perception others have of us. We should view it just as though we were applying for a job. Out of all the applicants why should an employer pick us? How do we sell ourselves in order to make us stand out from the crowd? We may have a change of career from time to time but our online history and reputation form our CV or resumé and the internet is an unforgiving place with a long memory.
Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer has taken this to its ultimate conclusion by actually offering a job via his blog and twitter. He's not asking for a resumé but wants applicants to connect with him using social media and to use their online profiles to help differentiate themselves from the rest. We should not, however, wait for a job offer to bolster our brand - it is something we should be doing every day as you never know when an opportunity may arise.
We are living in a small world and are no longer compared against just those around us; our immediate vicinity has now become the whole planet.
How do you perceive value? What do you do to differentiate yourself from those in your niche, or what would you advise others to do?
Image by Tony Roberts.