There Are Too Many Social Networks – or Not

SAN JOSE, Calif. – A new social network seems to pop up every day or even faster, depending on how you define the term. A panel of industry experts debated the future of social media and networking here at the two-day wrap up of the User Generated Content Conference &

While Facebook, MySpace and a handful of others are readily identified as social networks, social sites on the Web abound whether or not they’re recognized as such.

“I think we need to redefine social networks,” Richard Jalichandra, president and CEO of blog search engine and resource site Technorati. “I’ve had friends develop a social network around my Facebook profile without my impetus. I have people who don’t know each other but met on my profile page. Now someone I went to kindergarten with is having arguments about Sarah Palin on my wall.”

Whatever it’s called, greater social connectivity is firmly in place on the Web and seems hell bent for growth, with few exceptions. Fast-growing Ning, for example, is a service that helps individuals and groups create their own social networks. Rachel Masters, vice president of strategic relationships at Ning, noted several companies (e.g. WD-40 Co.) and celebrities (rapper 50 Cent) that have a site on Ning.

But she also said it’s not for every company out there. “I don’t think every brand should have one,” said Masters. “Only if you have a distinct brand or person that people feel passionate about.”

Cashing in isn’t always about money

When a company does launch a social network it should have a clear idea of expectations. Oren Michels, CEO of Mashery mentioned his company’s work with

“Netflix is about subscriber retention,” said Michels. Mashery provides API
management for companies that want to leverage Web services.
“WD-40 doesn’t care about AdSense, they want to show off what the product can do.”

To that end, Masters said WD-40 lets customers show off funny videos they’ve created that convey how they use the lubricant in unique ways. “The best way to show users respect is give them some love on the main page,” said Masters. Ning also just released a birthday module that lets site operators note member birthdays on the front page.

Another example, hip-hop artist 50 Cent features a Top 50 of who he considers the most attractive members of his site based on their photos. “He makes the members feel like stars,” said Masters.

“With so many people creating content, brands are waking up to see [social networks] are a viable channel,” said Blake Cahill, vice president of sales and marketing at Visible
. The company provides social media analysis solutions.

“It’s robust content that matters, he added. “But the hard thing for the larger brands is dealing with the sheer content of what’s out there. The early adopters have a big lead because they’ve already figured out the social space and they’re the ones quickly moving to Twitter and leveraging the social graph in new ways.”

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