By Chris Lee
Social networking continued to spread in 2010, affecting marketing strategies and employment prospects, and even saw the release of The Social Network, a film about Facebook’s founders. In an industry moving so quickly, what should digital marketers look out for in 2011?
To gain an insight into the state of social networking in the coming year NMK spoke with Lee Briggs, social media strategist with London-based digital agency Lida.
Do you think 2011 will bring much of a sea-change in users’ attitudes towards social media or will we see much of the same?
I have no doubt that Facebook will continue to reign supreme throughout 2011. That said two trends have emerged last year that look set to give Facebook a bit of a headache in 2011. First is the increasing demand from users to be able to socialise all of their activities – even their offline whereabouts, second (and counter to this – hence the headache), is the increasing realisation that many of us are suffering from social overload.
Facebook launched ‘Places’ earlier in 2010 to rival the four million-member strong geosocial network Foursquare. Facebook’s ability to expand its platform to meet user demand in this way is impressive; however, as a Facebook user I’m already fed up with hearing about how my old school buddy ‘has just visited McDonalds’ and have felt for some time that some things, including many of my friends’ thought processes, just aren’t meant to be social. Path.com launched just in November, perhaps suggesting an appetite for a more considered (and private) social fix.
Briefly introduce Path.com to the uninitiated
Path.com calls itself "The Personal Network", where users are limited to keep just 50 friends (based on Robin Dunbar’s theory that 150 is the maximum number of social relationships any human can handle anyway). On top of this, Path has removed the usual social networking norms like text messaging, status updates, likes and comments etc, allowing only photo sharing and three pieces of information to give your pictures context: people, places and things.
Whilst it sounds gimmicky there has been loads of hype about Path since launch. You can create an account online at Path.com and bag yourself a path.com/vanityname if you get in early. Path.com is only available from the US iPhone app store at the moment but will be available in the UK and on other platforms soon.
Do you think a service like Path fills a gap that may service those that are either sceptical of the ‘openness’ of Facebook, or those that enjoy social media but think that Facebook is becoming too much for them to manage? What’s its unique selling point?
I don’t see Path.com achieving growth from the non-user market, the mobile application barrier is too high an entry point and the features – whilst I’m sure are well considered – won’t be to everyone’s taste. I do however see Path.com interesting those who enjoy social networking but have become discouraged by an over exposure to social media and relationship management online.
I also believe many people regret the over-sharing of personal content and information they did on Facebook in their younger years. With a limitation on what you can actually share I could see something like Path.com becoming the online impression management solution for the masses – a protection from themselves not just others.
Do you see geosocial networks picking up as much as predicted in 2011 or will they still have a niche role?
I’ve been amazed by how quick people have taken to geosocial and the sharing of their offline whereabouts – it takes social vanity to a new level to assume people actually care to know where you are. That said, four million Foursquare users suggests there is a huge demand, Facebook have launched ‘Places’, and smartphone and mobile social networking usage in the UK continues to grow – 70 per cent increase in uptake from January 2009 to January 2010.
Alex Horner, a colleague of mine wrote a great piece for NMA questioning the extent to which location-based rewards could one day usurp the traditional loyalty scheme model. If brands can work with the likes of Facebook Places to create a rewards program to benefit more than just the person who has ‘checked-in’ the most, perhaps one day my Nan will have a Facebook profile… a scary thought.
What are your predictions for ‘shorter form’ sites, such as Twitter or Tumblr, for 2011?
Micro-blogging sites do a great job of providing time-poor people with a means to collect, store and share online. Many expected Twitter with its celebrity users and continued broadcaster support to go mainstream in 2010, yet it still remains a bit of a niche activity used mostly by people in the creative industries. I don’t expect this to change, however I’m not sure it needs to. There is a healthy demand for micro-blogging services like Twitter and Tumblr, and I feel that as long as both continue to do what they do really well they’ll enjoy steady growth in the niches. Any lofty ambition to go up against Facebook in the social networking space could spell disaster for either… unless they have Google as a partner, then we’d have fireworks!