Another force to contend with in Social Media is the social network or the social networking websites. Social networking facilitates online interaction between people or groups of people with similar interests. The idea of social networks is to connect people with one another online, a feature that has been available online since the early days of the Internet. However, the services of such websites were limited; 1995’s Classmates.com, for instance, focused more on one’s connections with former schoolmates or classmates, while 1997’s version focused on indirect ties. However, these two models did not become successful, with their owners claiming that they were ahead of their time. In a way, they were right. Almost a decade later, three prominent models emerged: Friendster, MySpace, and Bebo. Today, MySpace remains to be the most popular of the three in America, while Friendster and Cyworld are popular in Asia. Facebook is slowly gaining popularity worldwide.
In social networking sites, members can maintain their personal webpage (called profiles) and interact with other people. But the main draw, and hidden gem, of social networking is how you can add people as “friends.” “Friending” is the main activity in social networks, where members acknowledge relationships with other people – you as a marketer can take advantage of this permission based mechanism to deliver your story directly to interested people. However, this has recently changed thanks to the mini-applications in Facebook. In Facebook, you can do numerous activities with your “friends” or even with strangers—you can play Scrabble or Chess or invite people to events, among other things.
Social networking sites are very popular around the world. In fact, one out of four American adults who go online visit social networks. People who visit social networks presumably own a social network profile because most of the options are available only to members who have joined the website. Social networks are also widely popular in South Korean, due to their high broadband penetration. In Japan, social networks are less popular, but a considerable number of people visit these websites (20 percent of the country’s online population, compared to America’s 25 percent and South Korea’s astonishing 35 percent). In Europe, 21 percent of the online population visit social networking sites. These websites are not as popular in Germany and France, however, with 10 percent and three percent of their population visiting social networking sites, respectively.
Still, social networks are formidable forces in Social Media. Social networking sites such as Friendster (one of the pioneer’s in the new generation social networking websites) is one of the most visited websites in a number of Asian countries (it is even the most popular site in the Philippines and Indonesia). MySpace, on the other hand, attracts more than 200,000 new users a day (in fact, the 100 millionth MySpace account was created in 2006. However, according to various sources, Facebook has overtaken MySpace in terms of unique page views per day.
The appeal of social networking websites is not surprising, as it operates in the same manner as blogs; they blur relationship boundaries, making it easier for people to interact with one another. Blogs are also community-based, with people exchanging links to establish connections. Bloggers comment on each other’s sites; but social networking sites work on a more focused operation, concentrating more on connecting ties – other features are secondary, presumably to enhance the experience. On MySpace, members comment on each other’s profiles, share photos, post videos and music. On Facebook, members are updated regarding the latest activities of their “friends.” At the interface of their homepage every time they log in, members are informed regarding the status of their “friends,” such as if they added a photo, a friend, posted a “note,” installed a new application, among others.
Social networks threaten traditional businesses, especially other media companies, since these websites take up so much time from its users. According to a recent survey, social networking site members visit their profiles at least once a day. Judging from the number of features these sites have, you can spend hours just looking at the applications in sites such as Facebook; time you could have spent watching a television show or a movie, reading a book, eating out, or shopping. Media companies are the ones who are directly affected, although other websites are also contending with social networking sites. This is why companies such as Google have attempted to buy a number of social networking sites (for instance, MySpace is owned by News Corporation, the company that owns the Fox Broadcasting Company).
Fads and trends also spread fast through social networking sites, due to instant messaging features within the site itself, as well as features for posting blogs, video, and music. This could boost name recognition for a particular brand, especially when their presence is heavily felt online – it can also undermine brand imaging since people can also attack fads and brands through social networks, which can affect trends and create buzz.
Of course, as with blogs, you can use social networks for your brand. Obviously, you have to join a social networking site yourself to get a feel on how things work. To make social networks work for your company, all you have to do is set up an official profile of your brand on these social networking sites. With this profile, you can add consumers as “friends” as means of touching ground with them in order to maintain their loyalty. The profile can also serve as a promotional tool as well, since it will help your brand gain awareness. This tactic has been used by a number of companies and brands. Even big brands have used MySpace and Facebook for their marketing needs. Adidas has used MySpace to promote their new line of shoes using a poll where members can choose which of the two new products they prefer. Pizza Hut in South Korean used Cyworld to promote their new pizza product. Skittles, Pontiac, Victoria’s Secret have also utilized the interconnectedness of members in social networking sites to promote their goods. While the effects of such tactics are unknown, social networking sites are obviously effective tools to communicate with consumers, to spread brand awareness, and to create brand enthusiasm by involving the customers and the people in the process.