Oh no. Big corporates think they need a social network Wednesday, February 28, 2007
I was speaking today with a company that offers the infrastructure for people to create their own social networks. Similar in some respects to Ning, these folks were targeting themselves at the corporate market and particularly at companies that want to launch their own social network for their customers.
I can certainly believe that some big companies fancy the idea of having a social network in order to appear trendy and so there's no reason why startups shouldn't exploit this naivety and take the money.
Thing is, I initially struggled to name any companies whose social network I would want to join or have any reason for joining, and they did too. But this may be down to our views on what an SCN is, as web 2.0 savvy folks, rather than the wider general public.
I might visit/participate in a forum on a company site if customers/users could share solutions/ideas about the company's products that the company itself failed to provide. But commonly such forums are a whinge/complaint/moan site about lousy service, which most companies hate because the opinions aren't always those they want aired.
This is different from joining a company's SCN and electing to use it to blog, post videos/photos and discover/connect to other participants. Equally, even if some companies were sufficiently alluring and you benefited from "meeting" and sharing with other customers, how many SCN can an individual reasonably join and be active in?
Certainly there are some services where I can see this works e.g. health club; golf society (or PGA); local pub because these have natural offline communities. But washing powder brands or brewers?
Marginal ones are clothes shops (swap fashion ideas online?), holiday companies (connect with other Mark Warner customers from the holiday and other resorts?).
So what have big companies got to lose by trying this out? The cost is likely to be immaterial v the marketing budget. I suspect the bigger concern will be letting the tiger out of the cage - trusting customers to behave in a manner that suits the company. Unfortunately, if the company does try to exert control I believe it will backfire either in the form of customers abandoning the offering or worse, seeking to overthrow the tyrant! Even web savvy firms like Digg, found themselves on the end of a backlash when they changed how their users could behave.
A real example of this "loss of control" was the Channel 4 show "Shipwrecked" which launched a SCN to find contestants. The result, Islandoo, has taken on a life of its own which is mostly independent of the show.