Recently, we were blessed with reports stating that many Facebook users had deleted their profiles from Facebook and this phenomenon is increasing with every passing day. Fatigue and over-dependence were among the reasons cited by the ‘former’ users. Add ‘Market Stagnation’ to it. Why Social Networking is important?
For End-Users: Social Networking websites are for friends and near-and-dear ones to be in touch and to be aware of what’s happening in each other’s lives. Networking sites did not emerge out of a gap in the market. It emerged, apparently, for better means of being in touch. Also, they are exposed to various new products / brands in the market, thereby providing them with more options.
For Brands: For every brand in the market, Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) is of supreme importance and has a say in the sales revenue. Most of the means, like Television, Print Media, OOH, are reaching maturity stage and hence, are expensive. Online media is coming of age, and is in its prime (growth) stage. It has an advantage of having maximum reach (target audience and others too). It would become counter-productive for the brand if the users start deleting and discontinuing the social network profile.
This comes as a challenge to social networking sites and leading sites like Facebook / Myspace (and the yet to be launched Google+) to innovate.Ways to innovate and take the market to the next level:
Improved Communication medium: Popular networking sites like Facebook and Orkut has concentrated mainly on making friends online, sharing photos, videos and web links, chatting with friends etc. Now is the time to take it to the next level. Very few (apart from some startups) have explored voice as a means of communication in social networking sites. What about having a Skype-like application integrated with social networking? I am sure Microsoft will be considering this option after buying out Skype. How about video conferencing in networking sites? The above mentioned applications can also be included in the mobile version of social networking. India already has 3G and this technology will stabilize in about 6 months. Most of the smart-phones have a front camera for video calling. Video conferencing feature will automatically add a status update and many friends can join in the conversation as well. This is one of the many ways voice / video can be utilized.
Tie-ups with Brands: Corporate firms (and Brands) use social networking as a means of marketing communication. It is used for new product launch, feedback on existing products and to interact directly with their target audiences. This is a cost-effective way and an efficient go-to-market strategy. Let’s take it to the next level now. Brands should also use social networking sites in their point-of-sale (POS) strategy. For example, if I want to book a ticket online from ‘A’ to ‘B’, I can log on to my social networking site, select the online travel application (tie-up with a leading online travel booking site), an easy user interface will help me select the destination, book the tickets (while being on the social networking site), and publicize it as your update, if you want to. Obviously, cost won’t be publicized. The more you use the application, you will be entitled to more points and thereby more discounts. This helps the brands in two ways: users will buy directly from the networking site, and will publish it, which is nothing but viral marketing. This will help the users too: they can use the networking site as a one-stop shop for all their online activities and purchasing via such sites will entitle them to have more discounts. The example of a traveling application can be extended to other areas as well, like buying books, job sites, movie tickets etc. How can the partnership of brands with Social networking sites work? The networking site will provide integration of application with the site and will get a percent of the revenue a brand earns out of selling their product / service.
There are obviously many more ways one can enhance the social networking experience and it can eventually turn into a huge market in itself. However, the following question remains – Who will start this innovation?