Social Networking Meets the Mainstream

SAN FRANCISCO — Business has gotten the message: Pay attention to
social media, and begin to figure it out. The Social Networking
Conference
, held Thursday and Friday this week in San Francisco, aims to help
them figure out how to do it.

As usual, conference speakers emphasized authenticity, empowering
users and creating a good experience for end-users. Mark Brooks, a
consultant on Internet dating and social networking, and editor of
Social Networking Watch, told the audience, “MySpace got the model
really right. It allowed people to connect on their point of passion,
empowered them to create absolutely horrible Web pages. They were
crazy pages –but they were their pages.”

According to Brooks, advertising remains the biggest source of
revenue for the industry. The $1 billion ad spend this year is
expected to exceed $4 billion by 2011, Brooks said. “I think there’s
a lot of money in niche sites, where advertisers can find people with
one strong interest,” he said.

The mobile social applications sector South Korea is the top user
of social networking sites, with 66 percent of its citizens having
used one; the United States is fifth in such usage, Brooks said. In
the mobile world, the biggest action is still sending and receiving
photos or videos, with 23 percent in the United States and 26 percent
globally sharing their media this way. “We’ve hardly scratched the
surface with mobile social networking, however,” Brooks told the audience.

MySpace and Facebook are the fastest growing in terms of mobile
traffic trends. MySpace expects half its traffic to be mobile in the
future, thanks to its deals with 23 carriers in 13 countries to date.

Businesses should take a strategic approach when moving into social
media, according to Steve Ennen, director of business development for
Neighborhood America, a provider of software as a service that lets
companies build online and mobile social networks. “Understand not
just the toolbox but the goals,” he told the conference audience.

Defining success

Companies also need to define the metrics for success. “As a brand
owner you can’t control the message, but you can control the
environment,” he said. “Managing the community to facilitate the
conversation is the best way.”

Ennis presented case histories of clients that have used its
software. Scripps used it to create a community Web site called “Rate
My Space” for HGTV.com. People could upload photos for others to rate
and discuss. As people refined the tags, Scripps could create special
channels for advertisers, such as offering bedding manufacturers
placement on pages with content tagged “bedrooms.” Within the first
15 weeks, it had more than 20,000 members. They created over 10
million page views per month, giving Scripps millions a month in ad revenue.

On June 15, Scripps used the content from the site as the basis
for a new, eponymous TV show on HGTV itself.

The site for the Men’s Health Belly Off! challenge lets men upload
photos of themselves and commit to losing weight. The magazine kicked
it off with a cross-media ad campaign, and integrated some of its
print content with the site.

Next Page: Fat bellies

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Fat bellies

“It’s a community based on, of all things, fat bellies,” Ennis
said. “It’s a fascinating phenomenon.” The comments are encouraging,
showing that a strong community will police itself, he said. The
24,000 members have generated more than $500,000 in new ad revenue.

At perhaps the other end of the spectrum, the United States Air Force is using social media extensively, despite
some cultural barriers. The military must balance information
dissemination and security issues, but it’s working that out. For example, Air Force personnel
use chat extensively via a PC-based application. Each person is
allowed a limited amount of friends with whom to chat, and the
application, developed by Roundarch, is secure.

While the majority of social networking services don’t make money
— or even generate revenue — their evolution may mean new angles
for vendors that can provide solid support. For example, Vindicia, a
provider of integrated billing and fraud management services, had a
booth at the show. Vindicia acts as the interface between Web
publishers and backend payments clearing services, allowing
publishers to take credit cards in payment for services such as
subscriptions.

Aside from protecting publishers and online merchants
from outright credit card fraud, Vindicia can provide reports showing
which users tend to create a negative environment for others. Because
trust is important for social networking, Vindicia spokeswoman Jen
Erale told InternetNews.com, monitoring what could be called
social fraud can increase the strength of the network.

When you hear old-school values like this applied to social
networking, you know it’s growing up.

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