It’s Not About the Eyeballs, It’s About the Glasses

The changes that we are experiencing in the global economy are clearly challenging the way that we go about the business of branding. Funding is drying up, consumers are driving a range of new approaches to the content we produce and the manner in which we consume it, and agencies struggle to clearly plan and execute engagement strategies that generate tangible returns to their clients.

adtechpanel Even the social networks such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo and so on continue to frame their conversations around eyeballs, traffic and reach. This myopia seems to have come out of the publishing industry – where social networks have taken and tweaked a publishing business model – but not taken the time to reinvent a market from the ground up.

At the Ad:Tech Sydney social media panel discussion featuring representatives from Friendster, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Bebo, I asked whether the social networks will continue to aim to be all things to all people, or begin to build their own niches. And while there was no clear answer here – my view is that the challenge for the platforms is to act as a FRAME of reference for their audiences.

I suggested in It’s Not a Filter, It’s a Choice, we are increasingly turning to the people in our social graphs to help us determine the relevance of all types of data circulating around us. In support of this self-segmenting approach, we are also seeking out tools that can augment and extend our social networks in meaningful ways – see Twitter + TweetDeck as one example.

Unfortunately, the real value in these social networks seems to be unrealised by those who own and operate the platforms. As time goes on they all seem destined to  morph into Web 2.0 enabled publishers aiming to sell eyeballs to advertisers without a whiff of deeper engagement. But really, what WE need is not another platform being thrown at a broken business model – we need a platform that will help us FRAME and re-frame the vast sea of knowledge / ideas / innovation and dross that inundates our social graph every day. We need help dealing with the friends, acquaintances, contacts, connections and colleagues who are now intimately aware of our thoughts, activities, actions and reactions. We need help with the complex world of interactions that social networks have created.As Jeff Dachis, founder of Razorfish said at a discussion hosted by David Armano at SXSW:

"I know who my friends are. What's confusing us is how the Web is strengthening our loose ties"

Providing cross-platform identity management, however, means relinquishing the prized user and trend data that the social networks hope will turn into a new river of gold. In my opinion, the time of a classified-driven river of gold has now passed – and will never be again. The new river of riches lies buried there in the conversations, just waiting for the right platform to sieve it the right way.

It’s not the eyeballs, perhaps it’s not even the glasses – but social media is challenging us all to look at this world in a new way. And that can’t be a bad thing.

Comments

  1. Gavin, brilliant post, can’t quite get my head round how the very people who created these platforms are the very people who insist that it’s ok if brands continue to shout and interrupt people as long as it’s about stuff that’s relevant to them (targeted). I think social networks need to drive revenue in two ways:
    - Creative partnerships with brands that help them tap into and add value to communities of shared interest, e.g. sponsored apps or experiences built into existing community platforms
    - Enable their users to generate revenue for themselves through their interests (music clothes etc.)and skim of the top any revenue generated.
    Social Networks are in the privileged position of presiding over vast sub-groups and micro-communities each with their own mission, passion, interest or purpose. They need to innovate and grow through these groups, encouraging deeper interactions and collaboration and by encouraging new communities to use their site as a home. If they do this they’ve got a business for life, when they try to maintain the status-quo the people, will overtake and kill the business.

  2. Thanks, Joe. I agree that it’s time to stop interrupting. This is what Mike Arauz was talking about with desire paths:
    http://www.servantofchaos.com/2009/03/on-your-path-of-desire.html
    And as you point out, providing value to the communities who use these platforms will create loyal, lifetime customers. And who doesn’t want that?

  3. “At the Ad:Tech Sydney social media panel discussion featuring representatives from Friendster, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Bebo, I asked whether the social networks will continue to aim to be all things to all people, or begin to build their own niches.”
    There is already a move away from these broad social media platforms as individuals and groups are developing their own niche platforms. I’ve been following the likes of ning for sometime, and the growth in these niche social media sites is amazing.

  4. Gavin this is such a great post. I hope some of our friends in our social graphs are reading it.

  5. I doubt they subscribe to my blog ;)
    Though, on a lighter note, imagine doing the social media monitoring for Facebook. Now that would be a dirty job!

  6. Exactly, Jan! Ning uses Open ID and Facebook has Connect (as does Google). These identity management solutions are going to be more necessary as time goes on – and I have a feeling this is what will create a greater sense of loyalty – not the “I must keep you to myself” type thinking, but the “I will help you connect everywhere” approach.

  7. Gavin,
    Community owners must constantly work to maintain relevance and engagement with their membership or face failure. I see a future where there are several mega sites which allow everyone to connect with everyone and thousands of niche sites. Members will be spending the majority of their online lives in these more relevant and personally engaging communities with less frequent forays to the larger sites to expand their networks and communicate more broadly.
    Some people would be predisposed to move towards smaller sites to seek a more exclusive experience. Many, if not most people enjoy a feeling of exclusivity in almost any circumstance. If you can get behind the velvet rope you feel special. Smaller niche communities fill that desire in a way the mega sites can never do.
    This is a case that Facebook, MySpace and Beebo cannot ever fill. And is the opportunity of the long tail in social media where many will find a great opportunities in the near future.
    Keep up the great work!
    Thanks,
    Chris

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