A marketer’s take on social networking’s mortality rate

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In a recent post on the Social Times, Nick O’Neill, a social media newshound (and who seems to be right up there with Mashable, TechCrunch, and Read/Write/Web in reporting great bits of news), has written that social networking sites will be “dead in two years“. That’s an interesting observation, but I think it’s going to take a little bit longer for social sites to die out in the mind of a marketer…

In my opinion, social networking sites are first and foremost attractive to developers and the social media affecianados who I can widely consider the eagerly sought early adopters. However, once a new site or application comes along, this unique group with migrate like birds in the winter to the newest and biggest thing.

Think about it: while the majority of the Internet world was perhaps just joining Friendster, there were the select group of early adopters jumping ship to go to Myspace and even a smaller group skipping a step and going straight to Facebook. Now that the rest of the world has caught up and is swarming Myspace and Facebook, the early adopter crowd has gone over to FriendFeed, Twitter, Seesmic, Brightkite, etc…all primarily applications right now that the social crowd adores, but the rest of the “lay people” don’t appreciate…yet.

So this two year mortality rate that the Social Times is reporting perhaps is in the mind of the social affecionados and the rest of the world will continue to enjoy the fruits of social networking sites for the next few years past that.

Within the next two years we are going to witness the proliferation of desktop social control panels which leverage various networks the same way that IM clients like Digsby and Gabtastik currently let users leverage any of their chat systems. There will soon be a social protocol developed for updating your social data via Facebook and eventually other sites including MySpace, Bebo, etc.

I think that these developments are great, but for marketers who want to connect to their users, they’ll need to think about it in the lowest common denominator. You’re not going to build a website with a 1024×768 screen resolution in mind when all your reporting & surveying of customers tells you that a majority uses 800×600 resolutions, are you? Would you develop purely in Firefox even though your core base audience is still lagging behind in Internet Explorer 6? Of course not!

As a marketer you don’t want to alienate these people and sticking around in the same social networking sites as your target demographics is still wise. You can venture out and market your products on the new web 2.0 or 3.0 (whichever you think we’re in right now), and even get a jump start on everyone while these things are in beta testing, but you can’t completely abandon places where your audiences spend their time.

The idea that I need to go to another website to see what my friends are up to is absolutely ridiculous. Why do I need to go to Facebook to get updates on the relationship statuses of my friends or to find out that my friend John recently uploaded a photo of his trip to Hawaii. FriendFeed already accomplishes some of these things but the idea that I need to do all of this from one website is ridiculous.

Yes, that is a great point by Nick O’Neill about social networking sites. The challenge that plagues marketers when it comes to social networking is while consumers are on social networking sites, how can we appeal to them when they’re using aggregators like FriendFeed, etc.? If you can answer that for me, I’ll be impressed and would definitely like to talk to you more. But in the meantime, I would continue to develop strategies for engaging your audience socially online.

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4 responses to “A marketer’s take on social networking’s mortality rate”

  1. Ernie Mosteller Avatar

    I think you've got a strong point here — I tell my clients frequently that social networks are like restaurants in Manhattan — there's an undetermined cycle of popularity and hipness — but clearly a cycle, nonetheless. The only solution I can find for the situation is to (A) act quickly; (B) don't put all your eggs (money/time/effort) into a single basket; (C) be prepared to shift with a shifting user base; and (D) find your target before pulling the trigger. Which, if you think about it, is all pretty basic advice. Do I think people will continue to interact socially via the web? Of course. Where and how they do it, though, is destined for perpetual change. And to your point, there will always be an “in” crowd of early adopters who find and swear by the newest, tastiest eatery. And there will always be a portion of the population that eats at Cracker Barrel. As a marketer, it's first and foremost about who you're talking to — if they're in Cracker Barrel, that's where you should be.

    1. kyeung808 Avatar

      Ernie…those are very good points. How often do you encounter your clients asking you to be on sites like FriendFeed, Twitter, Brightkite, or the greatest and newest social app since the creation of sliced bread? I'm guessing that most people are satisfied with simply being on where the mainstream audience will be.

      I'm eager though, to learn how to strategically market to an audience that has sought out new social avenues, like aggregators or perhaps finding a way to advertise without traditional online advertising routes. Do you have any insight?

      1. Ernie Mosteller Avatar

        Rarely do clients ask for, or even know about the new sliced bread. They're interested, typically, when exposed — but to your point, all clients, regardless, tend to be comfortable with the familiar. By the time something is familiar to them, it tends to be old hat in the tech community.

        From what I can tell, the key to talking to the people who seek out new stuff is the same key to talking to any group — go where they are. Sounds simple, but in the case of early adopters, that means constantly going new places, because development is perpetual. For now, it means if you want to reach those who are seeking new stuff, you have to find it in the same window of time that they do, and use it early, without all the usual deliberation and planning that typically, makes clients a lot more comfortable. Move fast, perpetual beta, try stuff that's simply not going to work, be prepared to take a few lumps. Hard sell to any client, but potentially a huge win for the client who's willing to go for the ride.

  2. Ernie Mosteller Avatar

    Rarely do clients ask for, or even know about the new sliced bread. They're interested, typically, when exposed — but to your point, all clients, regardless, tend to be comfortable with the familiar. By the time something is familiar to them, it tends to be old hat in the tech community.

    From what I can tell, the key to talking to the people who seek out new stuff is the same key to talking to any group — go where they are. Sounds simple, but in the case of early adopters, that means constantly going new places, because development is perpetual. For now, it means if you want to reach those who are seeking new stuff, you have to find it in the same window of time that they do, and use it early, without all the usual deliberation and planning that typically, makes clients a lot more comfortable. Move fast, perpetual beta, try stuff that's simply not going to work, be prepared to take a few lumps. Hard sell to any client, but potentially a huge win for the client who's willing to go for the ride.

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