Thursday, May 22

Just Waiting for That First Social Network Virus

Symantec (makers of Norton Antivirus/Firewall/RAM Decalcifier) has been touching on the social media privacy topic more than once.

Online Social Networks Go Mainstream

I Know What You Did Last Summer

Will be interesting to see how they try to get into this market, which is just begging for some type of automated "check your private information in public spaces" service.

Wednesday, May 21

Shameless Work Plug

A lot of people have a point of view about the state of healthcare in our country. Giving them a place online to voice that view is a natural fit. Having that site sponsored by an insurance company is bound to raise a few skeptics.

Our client, BlueCross BlueShield of Florida, bought into an entire integrated campaign on that premise -- The Power of the Human Voice. And the site to back it up:

It allows anyone to leave a voice message with their point of view, which anyone can listen to.

At first, you would exepect the consumer commments to be pro-BCBS or perhaps neutered negative. But BCBS agreed to allow all posts to go up (except those violating standard decency/privacy terms). Even those criticizing their company. The result is a collection of consumer voices that range from enraged to emotional to positive. It is amazing how many end with the person thanking BCBS for the opportunity to express themselves.

Seems like a gimmick, but listen to a couple and you will be surprised. And maybe motivated to leave your own.

Have you Facebooked Old Friends Recently?

So in the last week I found two long-lost friends via social network sites. I had lost contact with both of them 8-10 years ago, primarily the victim of natural social network erosion. People moved, email addresses changed, phone numbers evolved. Gradually lost touch.

Every so often I would stalk them online to no avail. One of my friends, code name "Ex-coworker Creative Director", has a semi-popular name. So search engine hits would turn up a ton of results, which after 5 minutes of browsing revealed zero direct hits. My other friend, code name "Study Abroad in England Floormate", has a really unique first/last name that turns up zero hits. None. For the last 10 years.

Both friends excelled at existing under the grid. You wouldn't find a resume link, portfolio site, personal homepage, press release, or even online phonebook entry. They didn't exist online, which was fine with them. Until they felt compelled to join a social network site.

Ex-coworker CD is job searching and joined Linked-In. He actually found me first through the "people you might know" recommendation engine. He still doesn't show up in Google (at least not the first 5 pages of results, which is my breaking point). But a Linked-In search delivers 36 people with his name. He is now easy to find based on his city and job title (#4 on the search results list). We are getting together within the next week to catch up.

Study Abroad in England Floormate is also still Google Free. But I found her in about 5 seconds on Facebook. She's the only person with that name. Her Facebook page is literally blank except for her profile photo, which is obviously her. My "be my friend" invite was positively returned within 6 hours. We are now catching up over email and Flickr.

These are two people who really made no effort to establish an online presence, and they easily stayed off the grid. They aren't luddites, live fairly normal lives, and are probably among a large population of internet users without an online homestead. But one profile on one social network instantly opens them up to public eyes.

The social networks themselves are fairly low risk. You choose how much personal information to make public. Potential "friends" need to be acknowledged by you before they establish formal communication. But as social networks become ground zero for your online existence, the natural extension between your online and offline life begins. One or two words can instantly match your Linked In profile to someone else's photo album on Webshots. Which can link you to those relevant web pages results buried in the search engines. And all of the sudden your name drifts up through the search results flotsam, floating through the thermocline to the top of the results pages.

As more offline information becomes enabled online (cue Google Doomsday soundtrack), these connections become stronger. And your private life slowly inches into public. Which is OK with me. I still have a list of old college roommates who I'd love to catch up with, or at least lurk-view to see what they are up to.

Friday, May 9

Research Confirms: Social Networking Just Like the Rest of the Internet

A variety of new reports on Social Networking came out this week, all confirming the obvious:

Big generalist sites like MySpace and Facebook still dominate (just like the big content portals of AOL, Yahoo, YouTube, etc.). Niche networking sites are growing (just like their predecessors -- niche blogs, niche content sites, niche video sites).

And mobile is going to be a category killer at some, um, point in the near, maybe far, future. We assume. Look over there! A mobile beta program! With a banner on it!

Facebook is getting all the hype right now, but MySpace continues to dominate:
Hitwise reports that received 73.82% of the market share of U.S. visits in April 2008 among a custom category of 57 of the leading social networking websites. Among the top 10 social networking websites, Facebook ranked second by the market share of visits with 4.8%, followed by MyYearbook, which received 1.33%.
All that debate over Facebook Beacons, and they only get 4.8% of the traffic? Damn hype engines.

Which is too bad, since most marketers know that MySpace is a sink hole for online advertising. Too much clutter, terrible CTRs, limited opportunities for branded content. MySpace TV has more opportunities but even News Corp, MySpace's owner, admitted they have some problems right now attracting advertisers to the largest social network site on the planet.

But despite the dominance of the big social networks sites, here's a recent report about the growing area of niche community sites. Which may be a more accurate place to spend your client's marketing dollars:
Large numbers of US Internet users joined online communities last year, and membership in such groups is now a mainstream activity. Nearly half of US Internet users surveyed for the USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future's "2008 Digital Future Project" report said they belonged to a hobby-oriented online community. A full 41% of respondents belonged to an online social community, and one-third belonged to an online professional community.
If you haven't been to Ning yet, then put that on your list of sites to throw out during buzzword presentations. Especially if you can add that the founder also created the web browser. Not a web browser, the web browser.

And Mobile continues to try to become the new access point, like the baby brother who keeps wanting to tag along on your trip to the mall:

eMarketer forecasts that mobile social networking will grow from 82 million users in 2007 to over 800 million worldwide by 2012.

"This population will comprise current online social networkers who are extending their digital lives to mobile as well as a growing number of mobile-only social networkers," said John du Pre Gauntt, eMarketer senior analyst and co-author of the new report, Mobile Social Networks. "Early reports suggest strong user demand for mobile social networks."

Poor Mobile. Still trying to break away from phrases such as "forecasts" and "early reports suggest" and "maybe kind of sort of we think."

Finally, just for fun, what happens when the virtual world blurs into the real world:

No Shit Sherlock headline of the day

I am still trying to figure out how they got the remote control out of Dad's hands. But that is probably a different study.
Survey: Moms Skip Ads on DVRs
Despite redoubling their efforts, TV networks have much to do to entice viewers to stick around and watch commercials, according to new research from MindShare that focused on American moms.