Social Networking is edging inexorably towards major financial success. But before the real money can be got at, Social Networks must go “vertical”, and in doing so break the glass ceiling on the way up…
Mass communication across a myriad of devices and channels draws the furthest-flung reaches of our world together. People from all walks of life can now peer into the lives of others almost anywhere else in the world.
Social Networks often form around a general theme, enabling people to take a general approach to their networking. But it’s these generalist themes that are weakening Social Networks at the centre, migrating outwards.
Issues of Social Network Fatigue aside, while StumbleUpon and Digg are often great ways of finding specific content, we often fall victim to being sent irrelevant content suggestions by people we’ve added as friends.
As an example of an extremely focused and highly specific Social Network, look no further than Last.fm, probably the best example of a niche Social Network that has the tools and smarts to allow its members to grow their musical tastes at their own pace.
Social Networks to become targeted niches
In a recent article over on “The Knowledge”, the topic of focused Social Networks was raised:
“VoxSwap arrived earlier this week – and in a bid to create what its co-founders call ‘social networking with a point,’ the site allows users to set up profiles and state which languages they are learning.”
While there’s bound to be issues with the lack of correct grammar, colloquialisms and regional pronunciations, the real-world usage of the target languages should balance those things out.
Despite these possible (and I must stress, speculative) short-comings, VoxSwap offers a glimpse into a future where Social Networks won’t only serve specific niche audiences, but possibly serve as environments for “super advocates” — customers who can pretty much make sink or sail any marketing strategy:
“In this domain, claims The Impact of Social Networking in the UK report from Experian, super advocates will increasingly have a huge online following keen to know their thoughts on a company, its new products or problems that they have encountered.”
Super Advocates —make or break time for marketeers
However, the cannier marketeers will use these herded colonies of übercustomers as a valued resource, more so those companies that tightly manage their brands, like Apple, Nike, Disney, et cetera.
Problems begin when you look at how people will aggregate around brands and businesses. In the same way marketeers will be able to influence their super advocates, there’s also a better than average chance that the spammers will find these groups to be an excellent target to aim at.
After all, these are ready-made markets with self-defining demographics, all ready & waiting to be plundered.
Most people with even a modicum of ‘Net nounce have a near immediate allergic reaction to spam. But enough don’t to keep such schemes profitable and the people behind those crapulent campaigns from seeking more gainful and legitimate employment.
Intriguingly, and most probably an indication of fates’ keen sense of irony, marketing can often be construed as spamming, especially in the really real world of postal junk mail.
So as we’d say up in these parts: it’s a case six of one and half a dozen of the other! Meaning, some marketeers and spammers are often just as bad as each other.
“Research Director of Hitwise, part of Experian, and co-author of The Impact of Social Networking in the UK, Robin Goad, said that at the end of 2007, social networks accounted for 7.7 per cent of all Internet traffic sent to other websites and as their functionality and accessibility to the information they hold improves, this figure will increase during 2008.”
Obviously, these are figures for Britain, but you can be pretty sure this will be reflected in the US, but on a much larger scale. But if it’s numbers for Social Media websites relating to the US you want:
“It is expected that by early 2008, all the various social media sites will have more than 230 million members. That number is predicted to grow until 2009, with a leveling off on the number of new members expected by 2012. The combined revenue from these sites, which in 2007 reached almost $970 million, is estimated to balloon to a whopping $2.4 billion by 2012.”
Keeping the Fan Boys on your side!
On the subject of branding, smaller “fan sites” already exist. Any of those that grow to a sizable scale would most probably attract serious attention from brand owners they’re extolling the virtues of.
How those fans would react to the owners of their particular Social Network “selling out” to the guys in the suites is anyone’s guess.
There’s also the specter of clumsy legal proceedings against Social Networks that are activism-oriented, such as NTHell, for example.
In the end, Social Networking is about people. Whatever the ambitions of businesses building their brands, not everyone is going to be sold on the marketing messages being touted.
Social Networks as a new frontier to marketing will offer challenges to some and opportunities to others.
Social Networks as a new frontier to people and their various interests will present a diversity of communities and access to focused content like never before…