The Rise and Rise of Social Networking Websites
What exactly is social networking? Firstly, I should point out that this is not an entirely new phenomenon, and, at its most basic it has existed forever in the coming together of individuals into specific groups, based on what they have in common. Be it a small rural community getting together to talk about local issues, or a selection of people becoming linked through an affinity for dressing up as Harry Potter, these are the social networks of old. However, while ‘in-person’ networking obviously does still exist, online social networking sites are now what most people think of when they hear this term.
Social networking websites provide a platform for people to create and publish online content simply for the benefit of sharing it with other people. They offer a stage for airing opinions, thoughts, experiences, pictures – almost anything that people want – and they enable conversations to take place around them. There are endless options in terms of the social networking software that enables individuals to write blogs, start forums, post videos, and begin conversations online and social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all use different combinations of these elements to satisfy their growing base of users.
So how can businesses capitalize on this? Well, as with everything, there is obviously no cut and dry answer, and what works for one business may be inappropriate for another. Targeting appropriate existing social network websites to spark dialogue with your customers is definitely a good idea, but another, lesser walked path is to create a bespoke social network designed specifically for your customers. Your members would design their own profiles and upload videos, blogs and profiles and be in control of their own privacy settings. With interactive walls, activity feeds and the ability to search for other members using multiple criteria, your social network would have the potential to create a real sense of personal ownership and involvement with your brand. Hot topics or news stories relating to your brand could be discussed, and this would amount to a fantastic way for your business to converse with customers, listen to what they are interested in and to expand your online consumer base.
It all seems rather simple when put like that, and you would be forgiven for being sceptical as to how easy it really is to just create a social network from scratch. However, in reality it only takes a few minutes to set up and once people begin to interact with it, then it is only a matter of days or weeks before your own social network is up and running. At a time when everyone is clamouring for a bite of the social media apple, setting up a social network moderated by you that enables real interaction with your customers might just be the way forward.