The problem with social networks

Every social application has a lifecycle. There is a honeymoon period where excitement is present, activity is abundant, where I come back time and time again to see if someone’s noticed me and has added me as a friend. Suddenly, it becomes an obsession — wow, I’m connecting with my gal pal from kindergarten…and, OK, I’ll add the snobby cheerleader who didn’t say boo to me once in high school…but hey if she wants to be my friend, cool….and as long as I’m on here, I might as well fill it with all my stuff: my pics, my videos, my communication with all my pals. OK, after the honeymoon period there are are all these crazy applications that my newfound friends want me to be a part of. Some of them are really funny. I can decorate pics, spend way too much money on those “it’s-only-a-dollar” virtual gifts, declare my BFFs to the entire world, hug and poke and superpoke and twitter and update my mood… and be part of groups I probably will never visit again…. ..and….now…it….gets….way….tooo……boring.

This video below sums it all up! I found it on called “Social Network Wars”. After awhile, the sizzle is gone. The reach that these social web apps is misleading. They may have the numbers but the time spent is dwindling. Now the proactive user is now reactive and only visits on the odd occasion that they get an email. Maybe it’s because I have a FB account, a MySpace, a Twitter, a Friendster…and a new Ning site I just created. Don’t forget, I have a life too in the real world……

Vodpod videos no longer available. from posted with vodpod

Fashion Exposed… Whistler Mountains…and Kids

Wow. One of the best fashion shows I’ve seen in years…(although i’ve really only seen 2 live…lol). The ultimate in ski fashions from Rossignol, Burton, Nikita, Orage, TNA…not to mention the Helly Hansen girls whose body paint attracted many snap-happy observers… was presented in an upbeat, creative hour. I could only hope to have half the talent of the hip/hop gals and breakdance performers. Here are some pics from the evening.

OK…so I don’t ski but I did manage to make it up Whistler Mountain. I took the gondola all the way to the Roundhouse at the top of the mountain and it was really cold….almost -10 C when Toronto had been 24 C that same day. But the day was beautiful. The sun was out and tons of skiers were out bright and early to take advantage of the weather. Take a look: a view from a non-skier:

At this conference I met Kathleen Gasperini of Label, a “global youth and street culture intelligence media company measuring the most trendsetting subcultures in the world”. Kathleen came to Whistler for a 2-day ski conference to provide insight into youth, particularly with respect to engagement with the sport of skiing. We had an interesting conversation about trying to tap into the elusive youth market, particularly 13-25. The key key to getting into the mindset of the wired generation is to understand how they interact with each other, what devices they use for their modes of communication and content consumptions and defining things they care about. Social network marketing is still very much an evolving science. No one’s quite figured out the forumla for success. Web tools are making it ever easier for youth to evolve how they create content, share it, and expand it out to their networks. The pace of this technology leaves marketers continuously chasing this means to an end, who unwittingly doesn’t want to be caught.

But those that do it better have something to teach the big brand advertisers. Small companies who never really had the big budgets to cast out a wide net to obtain this mass reach drew upon their only resource: Grassroots –> the art of generating local influence one market at a time and with great reliance on WOM and cost-effective media reach to help perpetuate the message. They did this by going out to schools, setting up pop-up stores, having presence in local youth events and culture. True understanding came from speaking with the kids not talking at them and figuring out what they cared about most. Their success came ever so slowly over time when their brand became associated with music, fashion, and causes that resonated with their audience. In many of those cases, it didn’t necessarily involve reaching youth in web forums or social networks but in the real world where they could build real connections through the spoken word. The art of conversation has moved to the web, but that does not preclude the effectiveness of the offline world.

Social web is, by far, a more challenging medium because the advertiser does not have the benefit of attaining the motivation or emotion behind the typed sentence. How do you be ‘real’ with an audience with whom you want to buy your product or use your service? The answer is that it will not come quickly or easily. Patience is key. Relationships have to be built. Trust needs to be established before you are even welcomed into their fold. Today’s youth understands they are prime advertising targets and they can see a marketing ploy a mile away. Brands entering social networks don’t do so unless there is an underlying reason. So the approach is first to seek to understand, build trust and then determine whether you have something they truly want or need. If not, modify or recreate it and continue to engage in conversation to determine the need. If the sell tactic is not so overt then perhaps the market will come to you… and this time in droves. Seth Godin coined the phrase, “Permission marketing”. In many ways, this is still valid.

Who says you can’t monetize social networks

You kinda wonder why social networks came to exist in the first place. These were havens/escapes for users who were tired of being bombarded by advertisers who held them handcuffed to the content in exchange for viewing their beacons of intrusive ads and even occasionally clicking on them (please oh please!) to get them to come to their site. Does anybody remember when the internet first emerged and advertising was a no-no. Eventually as with everything else, advertisers went where the masses were congregating and advertising became a necessary evil in order for users to access to the much-needed content.

Now social networks is the new norm, yet another opportunity for marketers –> but somehow the rules have changed. In this space, it’s about influence. it’s not about banner clicks. Playing in this space as an advertiser means you have to tread cautiously. I’ve talked about the “establishment” in previous posts and it’s clearly about learning to adjust in an arena that is dictated by its inhabitants. Big brands can damage their reputations if they fail to be authentic or try to sell themselves in a space where selling is not allowed. It’s also about attempting to and genuinely wanting to create relationships with the users in this space and willing to be open to discussion and criticism in order to grow the brand.

It’ll be interesting to see how the MySpace Plus 3 Major Music lables deal pans out. It almost defeats the purpose for the existence of social networks. And yet it is providing an avenue for labels to make money at a time where CD sales are declining , illegal downloading and file sharing is rampant and the music business is desparately finding ways to stay afloat. On the flip side, the advantage for many of the independent artists who currently have MySpace pages is enormous if they could benefit as well.

But again, will the million of users on MySpace perceive this as yet another imposition by big brands trying to infringe on their time? These users need to be the forefront of this. Strength in numbers dictate that users can change the way they are being marketed to ie creating demand for products they care about as opposed to having that demand pushed on them by advertisers.

The Power of Community

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. 


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