Recently, I read an article on Reuters about music artists taking their social networks off the big social network grid.
“More and more acts, from Kylie Minogue to Ludacris to the Pussycat Dolls, are launching their own social networks, which are becoming a sort of next-generation version of artist Web sites.” (If you’ve never heard of any of these artists, don’t panic. Find the nearest teenager, unplug him/her from the iPod, and get the download).
In one example, 50cent, a popular rapper with over 1 million “friends” on MySpace, launched his own social network for his fans- Thisis50.com- where “fans can create profiles and friend lists just like on MySpace, but 50 Cent has direct access to the site's users and their e-mail
As marketers, we can’t avoid at least thinking about the topic. Even if you have no plans of going after a younger demographic, social networking is no longer just for young people. In 2006, MySpace reported over half it’s users were over the age of 35 (there is a caveat in this that many users may put 99 as their age). Networks around class reunions, hobbies, sports, are springing up all over the place, and there is even a network for retired seniors.
When it comes to social networking and fundraising, no one yet has the right answer, and there may not be one. Does your organization need a social network? If so, is there any fundraising value to it? Should you build your own? Should you create a community within a community(ies)? Should you try to grow your network on a site dedicated to social action like Care2 or Razoo? Try the catch-alls of MySpace and Facebook? Go with a super-niche site?
The article lists some potential benefits of having your own social network instead of going through someone else:
· getting access to users’s email and demographic info
· potential ad revenue
· they can incorporate e-commerce and downloads (functionalities more general sites may not have)
It really hits the nail on the head with an observation about what is at the heart of the success or failure of any social network:
“The key to getting users coming back to the sites is artist involvement [emphasis added], either through blogs or comments on user pages or exclusive footage and other content.”
A social network must be maintained. Someone, or someones, has to be continuously engaged, posting new material, thoughts, videos, discussion topics, status updates, calendar events, whatever works for your organization.
Creating a community and leaving it be, hoping it will perpetuate itself, is a recipe for a dying community. In its heyday, AOL chat rooms had monitors, and message boards had community moderators, whose jobs were not only to police and enforce the chat or posting rules, but in many cases, to stimulate conversations, create discussion threads, and give people a reason to check back in.
The technology may have changed, but the fundamentals haven’t.