We have Twitter for instantaneous news collection, dissemination and research; Facebook for a mix of personal and professional networking and larger community collection; LinkedIn for keeping our professional profile updated and for recruitment; Foursquare for broadcasting your location; Facebook Places for following the location of others, blogging for deeper content and so on and so forth.
It seems we have all we need in terms of the large social networks. What we need now is services that filter, structure and personalise the kind of information that flows through these channels. In essence, this is the reason why the Old Spice virals took off. The minute the personalised videos started appearing is when it went from very successful to stratospheric promotion for the brand. We also need products that better connect the ‘real world’ with the internet, in a meaningful way of course.
A couple of resources come to mind here. One is Planely, a service that allows you to see if anyone in your network is getting on the same flight so you can meet for a drink or share a cab. That’s all it’s for, and therefore some would say limited. However, I’d argue that it’s useful for the very same reason – there is no confusion as to why you are using it so you are more likely to achieve outcomes for your input of time.
One service that has recently hit the mainstream is Quora. It’s a question and answer service that is a mix between Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers, LinkedIn Answers and Twitter. There are apparently about 200,000 users at the moment and the content appears to be very good, perhaps because there aren’t too many people bringing the standard down as yet. I’ve only recently started using it and am still getting to grips with it, but it seems pretty useful as there are already answers to a ton of questions. It also has a feature similar to a Digg or Reddit where users can push content up the ladder by voting for it. Interestingly, it will probably only retain the current level of insight and analysis if it doesn’t get too big. Facebook Questions is the antithesis of this as it is the all and sundry approach of talking to everyone you know.
The importance of the emerging trend for social networks built around a specific interest, and then linked to Facebook, Twitter or another major platform, is that the big websites (and campaigns) shouldn’t be purely about social networking. Instead, they should have social networking built into them. Think about the target market, consider a creative way of approaching them and how it can tie back to sales and/or increased brand recognition. Then use the most appropriate social network to leverage off. In addition, can specific services like Quora and ultra-specific services like Planely fit into your existing marketing efforts in a useful way? Taking it a step or two further, and if you have the budget, can you think of a niche service with social networking at the heart of it that you could bring to market, which would in turn drive revenue?