Despite the economic downturn, the exponential growth of social network giants such as MySpace, Facebook and Classmates Online is strengthening our belief that the social media phenomenon will continue to bear new business ideas, social contracts and connections. Recent ComScore data (May 2008) was showing year over year growth of 34 percent for Facebook and 23 percent for Classmates.com.
Their success is inspiring companies to start their own social networks. They range from branded private communities that give product-related feedback to public groups that grow organically, branching into discussions driven by consumers. Whether for large commercial players or brand communities, social networks’ paths to success share the same fundamental characteristics:
o Ease of access
o Ease of connectivity
o Ease of sharing
Social network users are already bombarded with information and many have multiple profiles to manage. Therefore, an emerging social network needs to have low barriers to entry and a significant benefit to lure new members.
The vanity in spreading personal stories, the voyeuristic appeal of sifting through other people’s posts and the satisfaction from connecting with old time friends represent the first phase of these Web 2.0 platforms. Next generation social networks will need to help transform virtual experiences into reality.
For instance, members will join a community to help fundraising efforts, give and receive recommendations for product purchases, organize for offline meetings/demonstrations or train for a new role in a company or community. Their membership and time spent online will have tangible benefits.
There are some social networks with goal-driven membership structures. Social Vibe gets its members to match brands with non-profits, Care2 enables its users to sign online petitions and take green actions and SheSpeaks brings consumers’ opinions about new products to companies. Yet in general, social networkers spend their time on entertainment and knowledge sharing. Going forward, marketers’ challenge will be to build and sustain networks around social or commercial goals.
* Gretchen Krieg contributed to this post with her research and analysis.