Social Media Overload?

Among a certain group of fraternizing marketing bloggers, that I myself have been known to cavort with from time to time, there is a meme that has swept the conversation: Web 2.0 has grown out of control— with new social media apps launching on a twice-daily basis, how can the poor user keep up with it all? While I commiserate with this plight, I’ve already expressed my opinion elsewhere that we are too close to it, that this is a product of working in the industry, and hyper-analyzing this is just so much navel gazing.

Understandably, everyone wants to find the next big thing. These new apps that have everyone in a tizzy (Pounce, Jaiku, Twitter, etc.) are not communities unto themselves, they are communication tools for one’s existing network.

As Greg Verdino pointed out in a comment at Conversation Agent, We should not forget that these are all media rather than networks per se and the value to you or me lies in the connection not the connector.

The first thing I’m going to do is construct a fictitious user of social media. Not an “in the business” or “in the know” über hipster. Just a typical guy. We can assume his only blog is his MySpace page, and it only has two postings.

This visual is divided up by “directories”— contact lists, friends lists, address books, as associated with different applications and websites, scaled by number of entries, and intersected by common entries. It is divided horizontally with the people he actually knows out in the real world shown above, and people he only knows online shown below. When the members of a directory include both, the sphere crosses the divide in a manner representative of the percentage.

The graph above (may take a moment to load, and requires QuickTime) shows the embedded relationship of each social contact list (This visual was inspired by a similar infographic on Matt Dickman’s site, with an added dimension in order to differentiate flesh-and-blood relationships, with virtual ones.). Being able to distinguish each individual congregation of contacts is not as important as the trend it exposes— how some networks assist with real-life relationships, while others develop virtual relationships, and still others serve as communication tools irrespective of the divide.

The first thing that is immediately apparent is that Email and Instant Messaging are still the killer apps, and that the people you really know are in your Phone list. Beyond that, some interesting shapes tape form. Linked[in] is a powerful tool for managing the relationships that you already have, while MySpace is on the outside (Before someone points it out, some people may only invite close friends on MySpace, while other so-called “open networkers” may see most of their Linked[in] sphere dip below the plane. This is just one scenario, but my anecdotal observations suggest this is more the norm.).

What I also find very fascinating are the small spheres, like the band’s fan site or the theremin forum. This is where people connect with others who share their deep common interests. This is the long-tail of social networking. Let’s have a look at a couple of examples:

Gig Posters is the ultimate online library of concert posters. All posters in the library are uploaded either by collectors (fans of the band or the poster artist) or uploaded by the poster artists themselves. There is a shop where artists can sell their goods, and a community area in the form of a bulletin board. This is still the most successful form of vertical market online community.

The Purse Blog/Forum is a shallow little website for women who are passionate about their purses. It has a blog where all the new styles are introduced. A forum where members can socialize, discuss fashion, show off their purse collections and share tips on how to spot counterfeits. An auction page, that members cannot sell on until they’ve posted X number of times in the forum, and have earned enough points-of-trust from fellow forum members (a much more stringent screening process that anything in place at eBay).

These are the sort of vertical market communities that marketers should be studying when they want to see a successful social media model for clients hoping to build online community around their brands.

But where are all the hip and trendy, high-tech and sexy new social networking apps of the moment? Nowhere to be found. What these sites are brimming with are happy loyal members of tight-knit online communities. When you’re on most of these sites, they ask in your user profile whether you wish to share your website URL, you email address and several different instant messenger application identities. Depending on which apps you have and wish to share, these will show up as a series of buttons along the bottom edge of your forum postings. When the major bulletin board applications (vBulletin, Invision Board, Ikon Board) begin to include the option for a Twitter, Jaiku, Pounce button, and more importantly when the users of the bulletin boards begin to activate the button in their forum profile, that’s when you’ll know which of these apps has arrived.

But the true lesson to be learned from these sites is that, irrespective of technology, content is still king.

For those social media jockeys in need of a tool to help keep all of their net identities organized, John Swords’ blog pointed me in the direction of Onxiam which, while not the most elegant solution, does at least gather all one’s identities in one single directory.

Reader Comments (2)

Chris -- First off, like I said, nice work on the graphic and nice thought on this piece. I think you are completely dead-on in pointing out that the general, average person is not nearly up to the level of interaction that we in the space are. I'd say there's a good year+ gap there and we need to be cognizant of that fact in marketing.

Your long tail examples are also good to prove this point. Where people find a common interest, the level of interaction and community building increases rapidly. I've seen this first hand in the work I've done with professional sports teams. The MySpace example is still probably a little too aggressive for the average American consumer. I think network memberships are growing, but there are a lot of people for whom email, browser, phone and IM are *the* tools for communication.

To the points about services like Twitter and Pownce, these are bleeding edge when compared to where the consumer is, but don't count them out. I can see individual communities adopting these services or a form of service like them to enable more community building. How much more powerful could the Gig Posters site be if they had a Twitter account and posted to it regularly? Members of that site are looking for ways to connect more deeply and I don't see why they wouldn't give Twitter a try.

I think the point in any marketing campaign is to look at the consumer, make sure your strategy is on target to them and look where you can take them to the next step. Twitter isn't for every person, but it may be the next step for a lot of communities out there. Message boards only go so far.
July 12, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Dickman
Matt wrote:
> ...Message boards only go so far.

True, but they're still the corner stone of most online communities. Then IM brings the conversation to one-on-one in real time between individual participants. Apps like Twitter make a behavioral change in the way we use these communications.

What are blogs, but networks of message boards? (There are three other graphs I considered for this posting. I'm about to be very busy, and don't know when I'll have time, but perhaps over the weekend or next week I'll amend the post, or elaborate with a follow-up. graph 1 and 2- comparative graphs of the structure of blog posts vs bulletin board posts, and 3- the relationship between communication tools and communities.)

Matt wrote:
> ...I can see individual communities adopting these
> services or a form of service like them to enable
> more community building...

Absolutely. As I said:
+ ...When the major bulletin board applications...
+ begin to include the option for a Twitter, Jaiku,
+ Pounce button, and more importantly when the users
+ of the bulletin boards begin to activate the button
+ in their forum profile, that’s when you’ll know
+ which of these apps has arrived.

Here is an interesting observation.

As you came to post your response, we engaged in an IM. This gave us a one-on-one exchange in realtime while you formed your reply. Then, after making your response, John Swords Twittered the URL. I have my stats open in another window and rather instantaneously received 20 hits with "" as the referrer.

(Can we discuss a navel gazing exercise?)

It was great to see that in action.

My position on social media overload has not changed. We're experiencing this because we work in this field. The average user does not know these products exist. When they do cross the threshold into mass market adoption, they will probably have been assimilated into an existing product or service (they'll have to, the masses won't tolerate the inconvenience of juggling multiple services/platforms). They will be very useful when that does happens. But these inconveniences everyone is complaining about right now are a result of our proximity to them as early adopters. That's my point. Not that they're bad, or in any way wrong.

Furthermore, good content still trumps all.
July 12, 2007 | Registered CommenterChris

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