Social Networks: Where the Party's At
Social networking now trumps e-mail as the most popular Internet activity, according to a report recently released by The Nielsen Company. What's more, social networks and blogging sites account for nearly 10 percent of all Internet time. Yet, these sites are a largely unmonetized form of media, in terms of advertising and fundraising.
The report, "Global Faces and Networked Places," also reveals that Facebook has replaced MySpace as the world's most popular social network, visited by three in every 10 people online across the world.
According to Nielsen's report, the reasons for Facebook's popularity are its:
- Design. Facebook has an organized and easy-to-use interface.
- Broad appeal. The site isn't targeted toward a specific demographic.
- Activity focus. Facebook is focused on connecting, not entertainment. It can be used to reunite with old friends, for business networking, dating, sharing photos and life- status updates.
- Architecture. Features like applications, invites and requests, and an open architecture have increased word-of-mouth and visitor engagement.
- Privacy. Members have more control over who sees their content than on many other social-networking sites.
- Media coverage. Early on, Facebook received a large amount of free media coverage.
The report puts the growth of social networks into context, looks at how the social-networking audience is changing, and investigates the challenges advertisers face on social networks and how they can find "the magic formula" to monetize them. While the advice is geared toward for-profit Internet publishers, much of it is germane to nonprofit organizations as well.
- Understand that social networks are an opportunity for everyone. Social networks are just another vehicle — like TV, newspapers, radio and the telephone — by which an organization can communicate, engage and connect with constituents.
- Tap into what makes social networks successful. Social-media sites are just an example of people's desire and willingness to generate opinions and co-create content. They offer opportunities for organizations to increase audience and engagement on their own sites.
- Increase interactivity within your site. Add functionality that enables communities and conversations to form on your Web site. This doesn't have to mean creating a social-network infrastructure on your site, but it could mean allowing visitors to comment on or create content related to material you post. By allowing this type of engagement, you "become part of the wider consumer conversation rather than just pushing content and sitting back," the report notes.
- Participate in the conversation on social-network sites. "Social networks offer the opportunity to promote content to a wider audience across the Web," the report notes. Nonprofits should create profiles on these sites and add content to them just as consumers do.
- Think about the mutual relationship with social networks and other media. A Nielsen report published in October 2008 found that almost one-third of home Internet use in the U.S. occurs with background TV viewing, with adults ages 35 to 54 logging into both simultaneously the most out of other age groups. According to the report, "these early trends potentially indicate that online usage is complementing, not substituting, traditional television viewing. Social networks and TV, therefore, might be mutually reinforcing media …"
- Whatever the successful ad model turns out to be in social networks, copy it. Successful advertising on social networks means overcoming obstacles like complexity, creativity and relevance.
The report closes by stressing that messaging on these sites by organizations should be "authentic and humble, and built on the principle of a two-way conversation — not a push model — that adds value."