The proliferation of social networking sites is advancing at an impossible pace. For businesses, these sites offer the Holy Grail, the opportunity for engagement of their customers. This particular race is reminiscent of the race for eyeballs in the early days of the consumer Internet between Yahoo, Excite, iWon, Alta Vista, DogPile (yeah, remember those guys) and the countless search engines, turned portals. Then Google appeared and poof, most of those guys are gone or relegated to the Internet’s C-list – in the business sense of course. Some of them still retain their web presences, others have morphed into something else.
The similarities between the portal races and social networking race are many, let’s look at some of them:
- Market share competition – This is done by creating useful tools that are meaningful to users. More relevant tools, more people join, use, stay, and proselytize…at least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.
- Viral growth – portals and social networking sites relied heavily on their users for growth, although Yahoo delved into traditional advertising to drive growth. Interestingly, advertisers are creating their own space on Facebook, and bypassing their own corporate sites by driving consumers directly to their Facebook page through traditional advertising.
- Relevancy rules the day – the survivors of the portal wars won on their space’s relevancy to the user. Yahoo finance was created making it robust and useful, Yahoo mail kicked it up a notch after Hotmail was bought by Microsoft. And as much money iWon vowed to give away, users rejected its business model because users care about the things important to them: 1. relevancy, 2. usefulness…iWon delivered neither.
Based on these lessons, let’s look into the crystal ball and see what shakes out for the social networking world:
Like the portal proliferation of the mid to late 90s, Facebook, Linkedin, Plaxo, MySpace, Youtube, Twitter, Friendster, et. al. are in an arms race to create useful tools in order to attract and keep market share. One thing that must be considered here, and only one…who will be left standing when the user bandwidth becomes depleted. In other words, why would I have a Plaxo and Linkedin accounts? Or Facebook and Twitter accounts? Who has time for all this stuff?
Still, let’s assume businesses have the resources to sign up for these sites. Your business at Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, is only as important as your network on those sites. Imagine managing several networks, building your client database, and then working the networking by pushing out content. This would involve high level strategy, definition of marketing tactics, PR strategies, and a solid implementation plan…I’m getting winded just thinking typing out these words.
Now on to Twitter…
Twitter’s growth, largely organic, press and celebrity driven, is understandable. I can understand how people would want to know what Brittany Spears is thinking about while on the checkout line at Walmart – well not really. But why would I migrate my network from Facebook to Twitter. Ok, I can update my Facebook status via Twitter, but I can do so much more with Facebook and Linkedin. I can create groups, post videos, create events, and deliver status updates, so why would I recreate or duplicate my online world on a largely one dimensional site? What is the relevance of Twitter to my business is the question we all must answer. And so, if we’re tweeting to no one or an irrelevant bunch of followers, than who cares. But if we’re serious about tweeting as a social networking medium that can help advance business objectives, then we have to take time to create a relevant pool of people that either needs or wants to hear from us on a consistent basis. And if I’m on Facebook or Linkedin doing this very same thing, I am not inclined to dilute or distract my network by sending them somewhere else for a singular function, like a status update.
According to a recent article in Slate, citing a study by a Harvard Business School professor, showed that 10% of Twitter users were responsible for 90% of tweets. The article also referenced a study by Nielsen, the media research firm, which asserted “that 60 percent of Twitter users do not return from one month to the next.”
So what’s Twitter to do? Simple. Provide more useful functionality to continue to survive. Attracting visitors is one thing, keeping them engaged on a long term basis is another.
More to come…