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Why Tags are socially sociable in a social network

The critical mass of a social network’s success is not only the number of regular users, and this goes for inside and outside the firewall, but also the level/frequency of engagement. With more and more users with varying degrees of engagement ranging from hardly ever, casual and perpetual, there are two other deciding and connected factors to through into the quantity / quality conundrum – tags and the profile.

Tagging happens during the engagement – users tag as they blog, comment, make wiki documents, respond to forum questions and answers. It can, especially in the corporate terrain, provide the vital glue for a social network, making a disparate corporate network of disassociated individuals actually network as they discover that Francis,  Olaf and Yoshisma have are taggees in common and share common interests, skills, experience or just plain headaches. Tagging is the social glue of a network.

Problem: not many people tag.

Profiles happen at the start of the engagement. Users join a social network and are asked to supply core registration details. There is an inverse (or should that be perverse) relationship between the number of registration questions asked and the number that don’t bother to complete. Put better – ask too many reg questions and you’ll lose x% of users, at the outset.

The task then becomes a tricky one. Ask as few reg questions as possible and hope, plead, bribe or badger the users to come back later to fill in their profile. And why would one bother?

The answer has to be to gain. To aggrandise or to connect, to display or to aid, to entertain or to annoy; there has to be some sort of payoff in someone completing their profile. In the corporate environment we can of course force people to complete their profiles on pain of whatever, but it still has to be a carrot as much as the stick.

The carrot might be obvious – a prize such as an iPod Touch for example for the best one, but the real carrot has to be the perceived gain in experience, in connecting and being social.

It’s for this reason that I like tag clouds in profiles (and I think it might be fun to load up one here now I’ve been blogging for a while), tags + profiles make the socialising in the social, so much well, social.

Any ideas for carrots on getting profiles filled in, or better still, getting folks to tag, much appreciated! But more than that – how can the gains of profiles + tags be made so immediate, so compelling that everyone just wants to do them?

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