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September 14, 2007

Social Networking Optimization Strategy for your website

Social Networking Optimization today has become one of the most effective tool for driving traffic and gaining visibility in the clutter of market place.Though Friendster was the first Social networking site which became big in terms of users.There was not much of a discussion among marketers on how to leverage Social networks during the Friendster's days.

After the success of MySpace, marketers realized that this was one big minefield where they hoped to find gold . Online Brands slowly started to have a social networking strategy in place .As Myspace grew ,most brands started off by having a profile at MySpace and tried to have their presence in this largely"teen crowded marketplace" by having online product launches,trying to embed their products among "key influencer's , by posting "bulletins" messaging them individually or trying to converse to specific groups which provided them the perfect demographics for market testing . But as it happens with everything most brands found that MySpace was just not delivering the kind of visibilty they had anticipated. The Media's darling might have become a monster, but not everyone could ride the MySpace Wave.

Brands like Aquafina, the Beastie Boys and Wendy's, which had gained 94,000 friends on MySpace and on its page offers downloads, wallpapers, screensavers, AIM icons, slides, audio and video. Verizon Wireless, the Honda Element, and Toyota are among those with MySpace profiles.

"MySpace is the No. 2 site on the web behind Yahoo in content consumption. About 15 million log on to the site, 30 million songs are streamed, 11.5 million friends are added, and 15.5 million comments are left each day," writes MediaPost.

Behind all these number cruching, lies the fact , that irrespective of having more than 100,000 friends, how much are the tangible benefits these networks or connections have actually provided to these brands. We are yet to hear of any major success stories about an offline brand that has made it big by riding on MySpace Traffic. If there are.. I would love if someone could point that to me.

Pete Cashmore of Masable had come up with a great post on Feeding the MySpace Beast .Pete felt that one of the ways how Companies could leverage Myspace was not to comepete with them, but by riding their traffic. But this ride was not as simple as everyone had hoped . Pete had a list of few Companies who actually succeeded in riding the MySpace beast by actually positioning their products and services that actually offered MySpace users a " value" that was intrinsic to the functionality of the services . Here are some of the examples Pete provides

PhotoBucket - Virtually every MySpace page features images from this photo-hosting service. Even if the images don’t appear directly in a user’s profile, you can guarantee the commenters will have posted everything from recent party photos to flashy animated gifs. They’ve also managed to monetize the service through ads and paid accounts. Looking at the site today, it feels fairly usable - but only a few weeks ago, it was clunky, poorly designed and hard to navigate. In other words, rounded corners and faded backgrounds had nothing to do with Photobucket’s success.

ImageShack - More photo hosting. Despite the underwhelming site, ImageShack has seen huge uptake, and appears to be growing at the same rate as Photobucket. The site is monetized by ads (Tagworld seems to be their biggest advertiser), although there’s no word on whether they’re profitable yet.

YouTube - Massively popular video host. The YouTube phenomenon can be attributed to a whole bunch of factors, but I agree with Fred Wilson - MySpace was a major driver of its success.

RockYou - Photo slideshows, powered by Flash. These are seemingly everywhere on MySpace - they’re mainly used to display party photos with smooth transitions and captions. RockYou offers a paid account for $5/year.

Slide - As mentioned on Mashable in the early days, these guys are trying to build a slideshow application that spans blogs, social network profiles and the desktop. My own experience suggests that they’ve gained some traction with MySpace users, but they aren’t in the same league as RockYou.

Lessons for Companies wishing to Ride on Social Networking's Traffic

1) Customize your products for the " Community":If you don't have something to add value to them. Dont bother promoting them in Social networks.. Stick to off line markets.

2) Social networks are "about individuality , identification and connecting with others: Provide users tools to self expressing ( Photo uploads/Video uploads) and enable users to connect to each other.. ( having widgets on birthday/ Zodiac Quotes/Slideshows)

3) Social networks are about Conversations: Do no underestimate the power of talking to your future customers. While brands might not get an overnight increase in traffic from Social networks,it's important that they stay focussed on their users.Converse with them, give them choices ask them to provide feedback about your services and allow them to give you bad news about your products .

4) Shed the one way baggage of Traditional Media: I have seen most companies are reluctant to change their strategy for the needs of online marketing .Most people I have spoken to have this hidden feeling that the Online World is somehow more crude and more open in its admiration and criticism and getting that kind of exposure, good or bad would somehow make companies more open to outside influences . I have no idea why most companies are yet to understand the fact that The age of one way monologue communication is gone . Online Media has given the power to everyone to research,analyse ,decide and finally interact with their core audience . Marketing in social network is all about understanding your audiences,filtering them and finally conversing with them to let you know what you have been thinking . ....

5.)Don't Interrupt.. Talk :Print media used the written word. Radio media added voice or sound to the written word. TV media added sight or vision to sound and the written word.

Blogs,Social Networks and RSS represent the new social media and is a marriage between the powerful social dynamic of people talking to other people about the products and services they like and the speed, reach and efficiency of Internet technology.

Print, radio and TV represent a media where the marketing message is usually sanitized and distributed one way , controlled and broadcas to many consumers. Blogs on the other hand and as open source media tools are comprised of unmediated conversations that are connected in a multilateral fashion between groups of people which are tied socially to same wants and needs.

You just can't broadcast a pure marketing message. It is the peoples medium and the people are the gatekeepers of relevancy and authenticity.In order to broadcast you have to become like them. If you cant.become like them..... then listen to them.

Your have to socialize your marketing message. You have become a community builder, join conversations and create conversations instead of abruptly inserting a marketing message like a TV or radio commercial or print ad. As a community builder you take an active part in building acceptance of your messages through socialization.Once you provide then information and add value to enable the community to take informed decisions.. they will respect your message. And only then your Social Networking Optimization will truly begin.