Are you keeping up with where your target market is to be found?

A good friend of mine Neil posted on his blog at today about Bebo, and its development since its aquisition by AOL.  His point was that since the takeover (all $850m of it), it has failed to grow at all, in terms of members, and he wondered exactly what AOL were doing with it.  I was reminded of a similar situation closer to home- around 2000, friendsreunited was the UK’s social network darling; everyone I know was on it, and in fact there was a time when it was constantly in the news for various controversies, usually to do with romantic flames being rekindled, or exes getting revenge.  It too was initially started by a small team, and acquired by a corporate for a large amount of money (ITV bought it for £120m in 2005).  The effect on that site has been even more marked, at least anecdotally.  While the likes of Facebook and Bebo developed the social networking paradigm to cater to an increasingly sophisticated and global audience, friendsreunited trailed behind, and although their traffic has increased to record levels since a recent relaunch which included many of the features expected by users of web 2.0 social networking sites (link), I cannot but help wonder how it could have been if ITV had moved faster.  I’m convinced that it is the nature of ownership of the likes of Facebook, and the initial husband and wife team at friendsreunited that drives their success, and this passion and ability to move fast are lost on the huge corporates.

What I think this means for business is that you have to be ahead of the curve.  However much your marketing department think they know online, and understand SN, there’s always something around the corner that is bigger and better, and the guerilla nature of these new sites means that only those with their fingers at the bleeding edge can identify exactly where your efforts, and most importantly your spend should be going.  Sites like friendsreunited and Bebo still have their place in an integrated SN campaign.  But where will they be in a year’s time?  More importantly, will Facebook still be #1 in a year’s time?  Or is there a niche up and coming SN that will reward insider knowledge with a higher return on investment, and a more credible campaign?

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