The 5 Forces of Social Networking
Social networking as a platform for building and engaging communities isn't new. But while social networks have grown exponentially over the last several years, most have failed to generate the cash flow needed to sustain them.
There’s a new way to turn these networks into net revenue, however, and it's based on a “five forces” framework. Understanding and then managing these five interdependent forces — which include me-driven, peer-driven, trust-driven, time-driven and cause-driven forces — help anchor the development of an effective social strategy. The following are the five forces explained in detail:
People often use social networks to display and extend their interests, or to assume alternate personas. Users decide with whom they interact, what conversations they want to join and what information they want displayed. These communities are about the people and relationships they foster, not about advertisers. Pull, not push, is the name of the game.
Peers drive users to stay connected within their social networks. It’s also those peer-driven interactions that increasingly drive decisions. For marketers, knowing who has the influence in a social network is critical. Otherwise, advertisers are likely to find that efforts to engage the community will be as effective as mass mailings — with the added risk of bad viral reactions.
Social networking blurs the line between what’s public and what’s private. The notion of trust in social networks operates on two levels: trust in the platform itself to protect the community and trust in its members that comprise the platform. But brands must earn the trust of the network before they can earn sales from its members.
The time trade-offs that people make between different social networks are a function of the interactions they wish to have, their needs at specific times and their interests. Competing for time and attention means that relevance is now the name of the game. Users need returns on their time the same way that marketers need ROI on their marketing dollars.
Social networks have become platforms for advancing social change, and have changed the paradigm from charity-to-person to person-to-charity. For marketers, the key is to care about what your audience cares about so it, in turn, will care about you. The interest from advertisers, however, must be genuine because these communities can sniff out a commercial pitch faster than you can say “bad PR.”
Making the five forces work for your brand
Good marketing always has been about building a relationship with the customer. In many ways, social networks are the opportunity that marketers have dreamed of for decades: a chance to build relationships with a ready-made community of people who are open about who they are and what they like.
But social networks aren’t yours to control. And neither is your message. Ceding control is necessary to build credibility and prove the authenticity that's critical to being “friended” by these communities. Social networks are vibrant ecosystems that haven’t invited you in. Earning their trust and building relationships must come before the sales pitch. Heed that advice, and you’ll find that in the end both your company and your bottom line will be “friended” by them even more.
Karen L. Webster is president of Market Platform Dynamics, a Cambridge, Mass.-based management consulting firm that helps companies profit from industry disruption. Reach Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org.