Social Networking is a phenonmenon that has gained incredible strength and continues to flourish. It has baffled advertisers and businesses as the next generation of marketing is trying to learn how to tap into users in this space. A significant shift has resulted where marketers realize that traditional advertising on the web is slowly becoming obsolete and appealing to target groups as an advertiser in this space seems to be less effective than attempting to influence the influencers. We’ve always seemingly put trust in the establishment to give us information on certain historical facts, best products, top destinations, hottest jobs and optimal solutions to problems. But the emergence of Web 2.0 has elevated the power of community and hundreds of social networking sites have erupted to validate its authority. The establishment is slowly feeling the impact of this move.
I never really bought into community until a few years back. Ironically, I managed the launch of Yahoo! Answers in Canada, one of the few social search products in this market. Its premise was to leverage community to provide valuable information based on experience –> something algorithmic search could not provide. Unlike other social search products, Answers does not rely on expert advice from pundits in their fields but the common person, whose life experiences provides the source of answers to many questions.
The turning point for me came when I was attending a Search Summit in the UK, working with other international product and marketing people who were also launching Answers in their respective regions. I received an email from a friend who informed me that my former VP’s daughter had passed away from Leukemia, something she’d been battling for 6 years. She was only 10 years old. I wanted to immediately reach out to her and give her some comfort for her loss and was reminded of a poem that my Mom had shown me sometime back. I emailed my Mom and asked her about it but, while she remembered the poem, she didn’t know where to find it. I asked the rest of my family if they knew about it. But the response was same. So, I searched for the poem online not really knowing the author or any of the lines — just the context. I did this for some time with no luck. So I gave Yahoo! Answers a go and I sent my question into the unknown abyss of the Answers Community, skeptical of what I would receive. It took awhile, as I expected it should since I was looking for a needle in a haystack. The response came 9 days later. And it made me cry. I didn’t realize that someone out there had the answer. When I looked to established tools and systems for answers to my questions, they didn’t have any. I’m telling you that social networking is here to stay. The tools out there are making it easier for users to create their own content, build and engage in community. Businesses have to figure out how to maneuver themselves in this tightly-knit environment if they are to succeed.