The Shine is off Social Networking

Say it ain’t so, Joe! Over the past few weeks, it’s begun to look like Social Networking, the current darling of the conference and consultant set, might have jumped the shark.  I personally would peg the exact point where it went careening off track as the day that Waste Management (the guys that probably run your local honey truck) opened their own social networking site.

But it goes far beyond that.  Earlier this week Om Malik wrote a very interesting piece showing that social networking may have flattened out, or even may be decreasing. He notes:

Today there are numbers out from comScore that indicate plateauing growth for the big two — MySpace and Facebook — in the U.S. Last week, Revision3 canceled “SocialBrew,” an online video show dedicated to social networking. Meanwhile, Monster killed its Tickle social networking service (first reported in April by TechCrunch), following closely on the heels of CondeNast’s shuttering of Flip and Verizon’s decision to close up its virtually unknown network, which had managed to garner a mere 18,000 members. (Verizon has shifted its community to Facebook.)

And these just might be the tip of the iceberg, for there are way too many me-too networks out there failing to find the traction, and hence the volume, needed to grow their revenues. The lack of monetization will only accelerate this process.

I’ve also been detecting a subtle change in the “conversations” on Twitter lately, with some brave few actually taking a stand against the social networking Kool-Aid.  In one telling argument, it came down to a final comment from the prime Kool-Aid drinker that “You just never got Social Networking,” reminding my of my favorite line from a movie I dearly love, The Duellists, in which the lead character, D’Hubert, (a Napoleonic era officer who has served from Spain to Russia and back) is condemned with the single statement “You never loved the Emperor.”  Indeed, one might as easily be condemned for “Not being Politically Correct,” or whatever the actual flavor of the moment is.

Also, I find the current “Proactive Customer Support” wherein companies monitor social networking apps to create a two tier service network, in which the middle to upper income have a vastly different support experience than the lower middle to poor do.  Think about “Comcast Cares” on Twitter, a Comcast rep, who actively searches out support issues to help fix them.  I’ll bet he’s finding most of the problems are centered in Bel Aire, not in Compton.

Social Networking wasn’t invented by the current crop of Powerpoint wielding wannabes, and it’s been around a lot longer than most would suggest.  Honestly, I see it actually predating the internet, going back to the days of computer bulletin board services (Do you remember them?).  Most of the basic fundementals of Social Networking were really polished in online forums, on IRC, and in the first Instant Messaging Apps.  It’s not utterly new, in most cases, this is just a better presentation.

Some general Social Networking notes:

  • “Join the Conversation” – I’m growing tired of hearing this.  If you already aren’t talking to your customers, then maybe there’s a reason.
  • Just because Facebook says we’re friends, it doesn’t mean I will loan you money…
  • Why is it the GuruVangelistPerts on Social Networking seem to Twitter from bars or about going to bars so often?

What is new, is that there is now a widespread understanding of Social Networking and it’s overall importance in both web design in particular and marketing in general.  I realize many readers may be rather upset at my saying the Emperor has no clothes, but indeed, that is not what I am saying. I am saying it’s a waste of time to talk about the clothes, rather than the more substantive issues about the Emperor, like taxes, etc.  When the medium is the subject of the message, there is a problem with that medium.

I’ve said it before, I say it again here.  Social Networking and Social Media are not ends unto themselves.  They are aspects of good web design, and should be employed as such.  To use Social Media for Social Media’s sake is a waste of time.  There is a limit to the number of Social Networks I want to be a part of, and I personally would prefer to have more in common with my fellow users than simple ownership of a computer.  Niche communities are the way to go…as Om so brilliantly notes.

3 Replies to “The Shine is off Social Networking”

  1. Thank you…

    Why is it the GuruVangelistPerts on Social Networking seem to Twitter from bars or about going to bars so often?

    That is called mythomania.

    Either way: I couldn’t agree more with your last paragraph.

  2. “Social Networking wasn’t invented by the current crop of Powerpoint wielding wannabes, and it’s been around a lot longer than most would suggest.”

    I agree 100% with this, the whole Web20/Social Networking hype look a lot to me like a mini-bubble.

    We should not however loose track of the fact that there is something very big happening behind the hype and the tools from geeks: there is a social trend underlying, and people are learning to interact more, and in a different way. Michel Bauwens calls it the P2P civilization, Xavier Comtesse talks about the Value Chain 2.0.

    While I have no clue why Twitter is so hot (but I may not be the ideal target for them), I know that the tool that are being made available allow a much richer interaction, and they displace the conversation from behind the close walls of the corporation into the rest of the world. Diebold learned it when they tried to stop the spread of news of bugs in their source code, which was made available on forums.
    Employees blog outside their office, customers too, and there are conversations happening that you need to monitor if you want a better understanding of the ecosystem around you. And while a lot of the noise is just that (the twitter guys telling me they just got a glass of water), there is also a lot of “experts” talking about things they care about, and other posting comments etc… That part is not just noise, the challenge is to be able to extract the essence.

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