As Kat reported last week, Gartner estimates that 50 percent of all social media efforts will fail. She also explains how you can be in the 50 percent that do not, so I would recommend you read her post.

But as we continue to see social media push through growing pains at businesses, large and small, it’s important to remind ourselves what defines success and what premeditates failure. As I commented on Caroline McCarthy’s CNET post highlighting the same Gartner research:

The problem with companies doing social media badly is they are not asking enough questions on the front end and not asking the right questions on the back end.

I’d like to show you an example now of a social network that asked the right questions on the front end, purposed their social network strategically, and has a series of questions ready for guideposts to know what success looks like if/when they get there. The social network in question is a start-up, as opposed to a socnet created to support an existing brand or company, but the strategic approach should be the same.

Vibrant Nation (http://www.vibrantnation.com) launched a redesign this week. The social network for affluent boomer women (generally over 50) launched in January of this year and has been in an advanced beta or quiet stage of growth since. While its membership numbers are still in the, “low thousands” according to CEO and founder Stephen Reily, the site is about to hit a fast growth period with the relaunch and some new strategic content efforts, including the addition of Boomer Marketing expert Carol Orsborn as a senior strategist.

So, here’s a social network for affluent boomer women. What’s the big deal? It’s just another social network, right?

Not really.

Reily made a connection to a void in the marketplace that helped him purpose Vibrant Nation. It’s not a social network where you make friends and share pictures and videos and write on each other’s walls. It’s geared around the facts that A) Marketers have largely ignored this demographic for years. B) Boomer women are a bit wary of traditional social networking sites but C) They are highly social and intrinsically more apt to seek and offer recommendations to one another on products, services and more. (Think about it — who is the one person in a group asking where to find X or how you get Y and jotting down what you say? An older woman, right?) As a result, Reily hypothesized that a social network centered around boomer women asking questions of each other, supplying answers to each other and collectively building a database of wisdom would serve a valuable purpose.

When you go to Vibrant Nation (even with their old design) you immediately get it. The calls to action are clear. Ask and answer questions. Get recommendations. Participate in conversations. It’s not about making friends. It’s not about sharing images and video. It’s about finding like-minded and similar life stage individuals to share recommendations and have conversations with.

The key to Reily’s ingenuity here, and I think the key to the successful social network, is knowing that, at the end of the day, people who are apt to use social networks have Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and more for the mass functionality. They also only have bandwidth (human not electronic) for a limited number of them. While we in the social media thinker space can be actively involved in 10 or more social networks at one time, most folks are pushing it with two or three. So make that second or third especially meaningful to them. Give them something they might have a hard time finding on MySpace or Facebook.

Give affluent boomer women a place to share what they want to share the way they want to share it.

On second thought don’t. Vibrant Nation looks like they’ve got that covered.

As far as the back end questions go, Reily has metrics in mind but isn’t as definitive.

“First, success is forming one of the new bridges between women who are interested in finding valuable resources (and spending money on them) and the marketers who recognize their value as consumers,” he said. “We think there is a first-mover advantage available to companies that get out in front of the networked 50+ space – partnering with an online or offline publisher being the most likely long-term strategies if we succeed.

“Back end success, as a business, is getting members and visitors to trust us as a resource in all areas of their lives – and expenditures,” Reily added. “As the industry evaluates metrics underlying online advertising, we believe that sites that offer visitors reliable information about purchase decisions while information is what they’re looking for will deliver the most value (to advertisers). We will succeed if our members say that they can rely on information found and exchanged at Vibrant Nation as they make the most of their own lives every day.”

So he’s essentially saying eyeballs to drive a traditional advertising model is the metric, knowing the largely untapped market of the affluent boomer women is a nice kicker. Still, there’s that soft metric of trusted resource thrown in there as well. He certainly is under no obligation to tell me, or anyone else for that matter, what his definitive goals are. Reily is sharp, so I’m sure he has them clearly delineated, which is why I’m confident that Vibrant Nation will succeed and be on the plus side of the 50 percent Gartner talks about. It’s a social network with a specific purpose, a logical strategy and some reasonably defined measures of success.

And to give you an idea of what a purposed social network looks like for a brand or a company, I’ll use Lion Brand Yarn. Yes, they have a community section on their website with great content incuding a great blog, an award-winning podcast and some cool foundations of what could be a full-fledged social network. So, let’s say they want to build one. Without any market research or real understanding of their customers, but with a wife who knits, I would guess a strong front runner for the purpose of the social network would be to connect knitters at the local level so they can meet for Stitch-N-Bitch gatherings or knitting nights, etc. Therefore, instead of front-loading the social network with video sharing, message boards and all the bells and whistles, why not start with friending, geo-targeted groups and calendar/event items? Create a mechanism for connecting local knitters to grow the enthusiasm and frequency of knitting socials instead of cluttering your community with stuff they don’t need or can get elsewhere.

(NOTE: Lion Brand Yarn is not a client. I only use them as an example because A) My wife digs them and B) They have a product I would consider a social stimulant, meaning people meet to socialize using the product as the central activity. Converseon, a very good social media/public relations firm was the agency that helped them build their blog and podcast. Rob Key, Constantin Basturea and the gang there are top notch. I’m not trying to convince Lion Brand Yarn to hire Doe-Anderson. But for the record, I wouldn’t turn them away. Besides, Lion Brands may or may not want to consider diving into a full social network with Ravelry already serving a lot of that purpose.)

So as you and your brand start toeing the waters of building online communities or social networks, keep in mind those that succeed will not simply be a Facebook for fans of your brand. They will serve a purpose unique to your brand and its brand enthusiasts they can’t get elsewhere. If you want help finding that purpose, call me.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.budgetpulse.com CraigK

    Great post Jason as usual and I agree that there is are way too many social networks out there, that the average person really has no need for at all. The trend is already going to more niche specific communities because they can be prosperous with an infinite and diverse market place. That is why in NYC you can have a button store be successful but in Kentucky (sorry) it would fail.

    The example you used is a great one and social networks should be simple, effective, and niche speific. For example, my mom is your typical average computer user and who has no use whatsoever for Facebook, Twitter, etc, and wouldn't understand what they were if I tried to explain it to her. But she does love reading her romance “smut” books and always is conversing with other women about the books and trading them for new ones. If there was a social network focused on women like that in a simple manner, it would be just like Vibrant. Hey, maybe there's something there. Either way, I believe you hit the nail on the head and will see this not just to be the trend, but the standard.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Note to Mom: Sell the button store. (Kidding.)

      Thanks Craig. I'm off to start a smut book socnet right now. Wheeeee!

      • KatFrench

        Sorry, fellas, you're both too late on the smut novel socnet: http://www.eharlequin.com/

        (And for the record, I know about that because they support our client, NCFL, not because I read trashy romance novels. Really.)

  • http://louisvillepm.ning.com/ Chris Hall

    Jason,

    I agree with your thoughts above, we don't need more of the same…

    I'm finding that there is a lot of power behind physical meet-ups and exchanges with people who have developed a presence online. As niche networks spawn from the massive networks, I feel that the next iteration will be the localized niche network. By localizing a network around a niche topic, the purpose behind the network can be to meet and meet-up with people who have a similar interest in topic X in the same vicinity.

    -chris

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Excellent prediction, Chris and I couldn't agree more. Social Networking is all about growing your network of contacts for a lot of people. Now the pendulum is swinging back and it's all about growing your network of face-to-face contacts. Hyper local is certainly a good bet. Thanks for the comment.

  • http://www.jmorganmarketing.com jacobmorgan

    hey Jason,

    I couldn't agree more. Seems like a lot of social networks are springing up just to make a quick buck off of advertising, of course most of them disappear before they have a chance to become profitable and most of them serve very little purpose. the site you mentioned reminds me of another site called mamasource which is a network devoted to mothers from around the world who get together to answer questions and help each other out.

    It's about time social networks start to do a little bit more then let me superpoke or throw sheep at people.

    thanks for the post

    Jacob

    http://www.jmorganmarketing.com

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      But I like sheep. (Kidding. I hate them.)

      Thanks for the post, Jacob. We're certainly in agreement.

      • http://www.jmorganmarketing.com jacobmorgan

        i suppose if you like sheep then we can let that slide, but that vampire blood sucking app? not that must go :)

        • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

          Can we have one that throws bood-sucking vampires at sheep?

          • KatFrench

            I think it might make more sense to throw sheep at the blood-sucking vampires, and hope they're like the ones in the Twilight series who'll make do with animal blood…

            Not that I read the Twilight series… (see earlier comment about trashy romance novels…) Geez. I should just keep my mouth shut…

          • http://www.jmorganmarketing.com jacobmorgan

            i think we have a new million dollar idea! who wants to build the new facebook app? we can call it “vampire sheep,” we'll make a 'viral' video and all become rich

            muhahahahah

            by the way i do think it would be an interesting experiment to see if we could make something ridiculous and see if we can make it grow :)

  • http://www.yourteamonline.ca Chris Nadeau

    Awesome post Jason! No one in the near future is going to over take facebook or myspace, but where I feel the real opportunity as a builder is, is to really niche your network out, like your two examples.

    We are trying to do this with YourTeam Online (http://yourteamonline.ca) for the fanatical hockey and soccer folks. We are still trying to figure out what will make it more about them then your usual social networking features. Suggestions anyone?

    Great post!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks Chris. I think you'll find your answer in what hockey and soccer nuts do or talk about when they get together. What can a website give them to facilitate that interaction they have in person? Is it share videos of great plays? Is it talk strategy? That's where I'd start.

      Now, when are we going to get a Huntington Blizzard Alumni Socnet?

      • http://www.yourteamonline.ca Chris Nadeau

        Thanks for the tips Jason. We are with you. Nice post on Pierre's company today.

  • http://www.bazaarvoice.com Leigh Choate – Bazaarvoice

    Totally agree with your points here. Especially as the economy freaks out, people trust other people like themselves – not companies – for opinions, and especially when it comes to making buying decisions.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks Leigh. Agreed and welcome to SME.

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  • http://www.forexexplore.com Danielle

    I agree with you! The amount of social networks is suffocating!

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  • http://www.pinklinx.com Trina C

    I was on linkedin last week and found this post, it is quite interesting…..Many women feel Linkedin is not social enough and while facebook is more social, it is not professional enough. 9 months ago, I myself, noticed the lack of social applications on linkedin but thought facebook wasn’t viewed as quite professional enough for my clients to visit. PinkLinx was born. PinklInx.com is launching January 1st. It is a combination of linkedin and facebook. It will be the only international womens business networking community on the internet of its kind. Please feel free to sign up for the email notification to be alerted when the site launches in January. Looking forward to seeing all of you there!

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