From Social to Purpose

12/04/2012 10:47 BST | Updated 11/06/2012 10:12 BST

Ran into a friend at a party the other day.

"I'm not very social," she says.

That's odd I think. We're at a party. She's talking. That's pretty social to me.

"I don't tweet and I never go on Facebook" she says quietly, and with a hint of guilt.

Gradually, social networks are redefining what it means to be social. To tweet, like, friend, unfriend, link, post, comment are becoming definitive social behaviours.

And just as they are changing the way we see ourselves as social beings, social networks are changing the way businesses engage society with their communication, products and services.

The promise of social is that it will equip brands with an incredible new power to understand people and the relationships that inform and influence their learning, buying and sharing.

That's why social networks like Facebook are becoming massive commercial platforms with serious economic clout: Facebook reckons it adds an estimated €15.3 billion and supports 232,000 jobs in the European economy.

And these are early days. The commercial use of these networks will evolve far beyond plugging into our social connections and will become a powerful platform to fulfill a social purpose.

Two phenomena will collide to make this the case:

1. Social networks will evolve from connections to actions

Some people argue that the social graph (who you are and who you know) is pretty much mapped. In the west, nearly half the population is on these networks. Facebook can already tell businesses more than they can handle about our inter-relationships. Having mapped and tapped these relationships, social networks will increasingly be about the things we do and why we do them, not about the people we do them with.

2. Business will present a purpose beyond profit

When that happens, brands will think of social media as the platform that allows them to engage people with the things that really matter to them and society as a whole. And in this interconnected, social world, purpose matters more than ever before. The Edelman Good Purpose Study, 2010, found that 86% of global consumers believe that business needs to place at least equal weight on society's interest as on business' interest.

This will radically change the role of social networks themselves as they become less what we interact with, and more the intelligent platform on which purposeful experiences are built. Their boundaryless nature through API's and developer platforms make it possible; our desire to take action that matters to us makes it inevitable.

So look out for more examples like:

- The way Amex is using social media to positively change the way we buy and sell

- The way Tripbirds is using social media to help you fine-tune your travel plans

- The way Gidi Traffic uses Twitter to create the most reliable traffic update in the notoriously gridlock city of Lagos and it's 12 million inhabitants

When this happens, social networks will have to decide whether they want to be the intelligent utility behind the scenes that enables these experiences, or whether they want to have a direct relationship with us and create these experiences themselves.