We Don’t Need More Social Networks. We Need More Purposed Social Networks.

by Jason Falls |

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.


About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls 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 Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).