Paul M. Banas on Consumer Insights, Marketing Research, and the Digital Media Landscape
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Category — Social Networks

The Social Networking Age Gap

Is Social Networking an age thing?

While all ages tend to use the Internet to search, shop, and even post photos, as this table from eMarketer shows, Social Networking tends to be mainly something for people under 40.

social networking 40 plus

The question is why?

Respondents to the JWT Boom/ThirdAge study cited by eMarketer said the main concerns were privacy, time and just not seeing the point of Social Networking.

Although each of these barriers may eventually be overcome, it will probably be a tough road, since things like lack of time or perceived irrelevance are not simply matters to be solved by broader awareness or easier user interfaces.

What I believe may actually have a significant impact on the broader adoption of Social Networking is if it moves out from the home and becomes fully integrated into people’s work lives.

Chris Heuer at Insytes has written a very thought provoking post that touches on how Social Media can foster stronger internal communication and collaboration within companies. Companies can then think about Social Media in new ways, even in areas such as organizational development.

“Social Media is not just about how an enterprise does its marketing, but how all the people in the enterprise talks with its market.

Internal Social Networking is already being experimented with in companies such as the Beehive project at IBM and N-Square at Nissan. As McKinsey & Co. consultant Leigh Weiss says about the benefits of the Nissan initiative:

“What we know from research is that one of the primary reasons people stay at the same company is that they’re well tied into the social fabric of the place…Companies will often lose top performers because they aren’t sufficiently mentored or connected.”

With Social Networking established in companies as a tool for internal discussion and work groups, I think the perceived value of the medium will increase for everyone, even for those people who are currently watching from the sidelines.

At that point the relevancy of Social Media in general will also increase, which will then likely lead to broader adoption and usage across all ages, potentially closing the Social Networking age gap as it exists today.

June 11, 2008   2 Comments

Social Networking Is Going Mobile

Like peanut butter and chocolate, if ever there were two trends that were meant for each other, Social Networking and the Mobile Internet are them.

Cell phones and smart devices are inherently social devices to begin with, and unlike home and office locked PCs, they can blend virtual and physical social networking in all environments.

While I’ve written previously that cell phone usability and their current data plans have held back full development of the Mobile Internet, the iPhone and the Blackberry (and all its clones) are beginning to turn the tide.

From a recent study, eMarketer is predicting that that mobile social networks will rise from 82 million users in 2007 to 800 million worldwide by 2012.

Mobile Social Networking

Much of this growth will come from existing social networks shifting their coverage to the mobile space.

According to Brandon Lucas at MySpace, who is their senior director of mobile business development, MySpace recorded over 7 million unique visitors to MySpace Mobile in the US in the six months since launch. “It wasn’t until we rolled out m.myspace.com that we got a sense of how powerful demand was for MySpace on cell phones”.

There are also dedicated mobile social networks that are growing as well. For a complete list of 38 different mobile social networks, check out this post by Social Media Trader.

With the ability of mobile devices to operate in many different social spaces, both virtual and real world, the expectation that mobile will be the future of social networking is not as far fetched as it seemed only one year ago.

May 8, 2008   2 Comments

Levering The Power Of Social Knowledge Networks

Social Knowledge Networks, as seen in something like Yahoo! Answers, are one of the fastest growing forms of Social Media on the web.

According to Hitwise Intelligence, these type of sites have seen visits growth of 889% since February of 2006. In their most basic form, these are community sites were users post questions and other users provide answers.

The reason for their success, according to Heather Dougherty, research director at Hitwise, is because:

“Online users are increasingly seeking advice from question and answer websites that leverage shared knowledge contributed across a community of experts and enthusiasts. The popularity of user generated media has helped to establish a category for social knowledge where consumers can obtain answers from a single aggregated source developed through others asking similar questions.”

Social Knowledge Networks are all about Reciprocation, which is one of the core principles of Persuasive Social Media Marketing. And levering Social Knowledge as a form of engagement isn’t just being practiced by big portals such as Yahoo!. Other content sites, such as blogs, are also benefiting as well.

Jeff Lash, whose blog provides tips on best practices for product management at Good Product Manager, has recently launched a Q&A site at ask.goodproductmanager.com. He was kind enough to answer a couple of questions about why he launched his new site and how he feels about the initial reaction.

What were your reasons behind launching the Ask page for Good Product Manager?

Many readers of my blog How To Be A Good Product Manager would send emails asking for advice on product management questions and challenges. Ask A Good Product Manager was created as a way to answer more of these questions and share the answers with other product managers who have the same questions.

How has the feedback been on the new site? Is it doing what you planned?

Feedback has been very positive. It is designed to be a resource for the community, and people seem to appreciate that. We’ve been getting a good set of questions, and those who ask the questions appreciate that there is a way to get their problems answered. Those who have answered questions help promote the site, and they’re willing to contribute because they get something by “giving back” … and by getting some traffic to their blogs.

What advice would you give to someone who was considering developing a Q&A page for their own niche?

Leverage others to get the word out and to help contribute answers. Don’t try to make it too commercial. Position it as a genuine service to the community and you’ll reap the benefits. “Seed” the site with some answers before you launch it… don’t launch it if you don’t have any content — and make sure to have some content planned for after you launch, in case the submissions aren’t coming in as quickly (or as good) as you expected. Also have some people queued up to answer questions — don’t expect them to answer themselves!

By giving visitors something of value by providing a forum to answer their specific questions, the host site not only gains the strong engagement benefits of reciprocity, it can also help to establish the site as a strong authority site in its niche by becoming a resource that visitors will come back to again and again.

April 16, 2008   4 Comments

Breaking Down The Walls Of Social Networks

Sites like Facebook and MySpace seem on the surface to be all about the Web 2.0 experience:

  • User generated content is rampant throughout them
  • Social interaction is dynamic, and happens on a worldwide scale
  • Members enjoy a wide range of applications that allow them to customize their personal user experience.

However, when looked at from an outside perspective, most of the Web 2.0 essence of today’s social media sites is hidden behind virtual walls.

Because of the lack of data portability or two-way interoperability, these sites look from the outside like many of the “walled gardens” that made up Web 1.0 in the 1990s, such as an AOL or a Prodigy.

There is an extensive amount of connection and activity within, but those connections are severed (at least one way) when you leave the site.

The reason for the walls is simple: the promise of monetization for these sites is based upon people staying put, in order to watch ads or buy products. The datasets on their users are a social network site’s most valuable asset, and they have little inclination to share.

While these sites may publicly support things like Open Social, in reality, as Shiv Singh states on Going Social Now:

“Most of the vendors who have joined these initiatives are more interested in plucking each other’s social graphs than actually opening up their own networks.”

From a user perspective, breaking down the walls of the social network sites through data portability would be a good first step. However, data portability simply means the ability to take your contacts list from one walled site to the other. And for many users this is probably not something easily undertaken if it was offered, and some would even call the whole concept “boring” (hat tip to Robojiannis).

What is missing are applications with simple and elegant interfaces that float above individual social network sites, and allow a free flowing interaction between participants linked across multiple social networks.

Thanks to several posts by Allen Harkleroad at the Favorite {fvrit} Blog (who always seems to be spotting new and innovative social media applications), I can see the beginnings of a solution through social aggregators.

Although they aren’t open to the public yet, services such as socialthing! and iminta seem to be a good first step by at least putting all your communities in one place as a social network dashboard. Plaxo’s new Pulse service also seems to be playing in this arena.

What seems even more intriguing is Socialstream, a Carnegie Mellon project that was sponsored by Google. According to their description, Socialstream “is a system where users can seamlessly share, view, and respond to many types of social content across multiple networks”.

What I was even more impressed with was this:

“The goal of Socialstream is to present social information in a way that ties it to the person who posted the information, and not the site from which it came.”

In the case of the Socialstream ideal, data portability becomes an non-issue. You never have to worry about breaking down walls in order to move your network, since your network never leaves your side.

March 3, 2008   No Comments