Social Networking is pretty buzzy right now. Lot of amazing potential - lot of folks doing it to check boxes. Lots of money getting pissed away. Before you burn a garbage bag of cash, ask one question:
"What CONSUMER need do we meet by engaging our brand in their space?"
If you can't answer that, RED FLAG. If the need you meet is your own, consider doing something else. Didn't work for me dating in high school, doesn't work now.
Brain Morrisey notes in "Why some brands seem antisocial", "those [brand efforts at social networking] that have succeeded either tap
into the existing passionate audience of a niche brand or offer some
functionality that cannot be found already on popular social media sites."
Today's WSJ article "Building Buzz for Ellis Island - and Shirts", by Suzanne Vranica and Stephanie Kang warns "the last thing the Internet needs is another social network". Baba Shetty of Hill Holiday says "the same kind of talents in judgement that we apply to other things in marketing applies to this media as well. You do not say, 'Yep, check, we've got social networking'. You have to think: 'How are we going to do it?'"
Walmart got justifiably trashed for "The Hub". Finish Line will most likely end up writing off their social network. We'll see if Disney can make Club Penguin work, or if MySpace can right itself enough to prevent its pages from making logo-bedecked NASCAR vehicles look like tastefully refined branding exercises.
Net: "social networking" needs to be part of a strategy, not a standalone tactic. It requires sustained effort, focus and resources. Know that the number of friends you HAVE on MySpace matters far less than what you DO with those friendships.
Take Nokia. They created the Nokia Forums to allow you and me and Nokia engineers and developers to interact. You can pretty much find anything - info, FAQ's, developer SDK's, etc., etc. - real projects, real info, real interaction. 3.2 MM registered members. Hundreds of projects. Lot of energy.
Walmart's 'Hub', thinly disguised product shill platform aimed at tween (gag me) 'Hubsters"? Punchline. Click either link below. Visit a live community. Laugh at the smoking ruins of a dead one.