A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

Not every site needs to be a social network

With the explosion of MySpace and Facebook the last few years, many of the clients/prospects I talk to are looking to integrate some form of social networking into their website programs. I don’t think I’m alone in getting asked about this.

Many of the Presidential candidates this cycle built full blown social networks on their public sites (Clinton, Obama, McCain, etc.). In addition, a variety of Fortune 500 companies have launched niche social networks. Interestingly, the two highest profile corporate social networks I am aware seem to have been shuttered. Wal-mart shut down its socnet aimed at teens a year and a half ago. Nike’s soccer themed-social network, Joga, appears to have also been shut down as the site is now nothing more than a placeholder page. Although to be fair Nike has a network around running that appears to have been more successful.

When clients ask me about integrating social networking into their public web programs, I usually encourage the integration of light social features, like commenting on articles, message boards and simple user profiles, but caution against trying to build a full on social network (friending, groups, user blogs, etc.). The reason I do this is that in most cases these top down social networks end up barely being used. In most cases they just don’t work for a variety of reasons:

  • The people that are interested in social networks are getting all of it they have time for on massive sites like Facebook and MySpace.
  • Even if someone has time, there is something counterintuitive about participating in a social network around things like Wal-Mart or a brand of shoes or a political party. It just seems off and most of us don’t want to turn over our social graph to these folks.
  • The nature of even the most full featured social networks is that most fade into oblivion no matter how full featured and cool they are. I’ve joined countless social network that I’ve abandoned after quickly realizing that they are ghost towns and/or that no one I know (or want to know) uses it.

When I hear folks talk about launching social networks I’m reminded of what people say about opening a restaurant: proceed with caution because nine out of ten fail in the first year.

For nearly all organizations, the best approach is to (1) add some light social features that encourage interaction around your content to your own site and/or (2) participate in established, external social networks. It is a lot cheaper and easier for you to go to where the people are than to try to bring them to you.