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The future of Social Networks

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…

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, 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.”

The idea behind VoxSwap is very simple — people are ‘taught’ the language of their choice by the people they meet who speak those very languages.

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…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

7 replies on “The future of Social Networks”

It’s time to get across language division as well. Most networks are quite fine for the US, UK and EU markets.

But the ASEAN market are now the place to be and explore.

China, the next superpower and its policies on the social boundaries on individualism are quite clear and neat.

Pieter Jansegers

I would also agree about the interest and growth of niche social network sites. We have put together the #1 Social Network for massage therapists and growing every day in membership and content.

I too am very curious about the Social Networking Marketing scene. 970 Million seems like an astounding number to many but experience in the media planning world tells me this number is figuratively low when one considers all the social networking sites combined. Facebook is my top site and too be honest, I love how they manage the advertisements. A simple ad to the left about Arrested Development t-shirts, Angel v. Spike, or don’t both me one bit. I really don’t mind if the marketers took my information listed in my profile because I’m actually interested in learning more about what they have to offer, time-permitting. I would rather have ads on sites I frequent that were geared to my tastes versus randomly placed ads from marketers trying to predict where their target audience is.

In fairness to Facdebook, their adverts are only as accurate as the information we put into our profiles, and how active we are.

I get some shockingly irrelevant and sometimes insulting adverts, which prompt me to vote them down, citing my reasons.

Maybe that will help over time.

Katie, thanks for your comment!

Niche social networks are a welcome addition to the web. Because they are more narrowly focused, they are better able to serve the needs of their community.

The large generic social networks like Facebook and Myspace are great for keeping in touch with friends, but small social networks offer much more – people just like you who share your same passions.

Qnahealth is a new social network for health related information and support. It’s designed to be friendly and easy to use and is focused around users asking and answering questions and sharing their experiences and knowledge.

We invite everyone to take a look as they explore their online health information options.

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