Social Networks & Brands

September 9, 2003

in Knowledge Innovation, Social Networks, Social Software

Emerging Social Networking sites need to think more carefully about their brands. Too much time is spent “engineering” and not enough being conversational telling real stories. Strategic brand positioning is becoming ever more important in this realm. I continue to miss compelling stories on the new sites.

Today I was pushed by a colleague back to take another look at LinkedIn. I’ve not been growing my network there. My profile lacks detailed documentation. So I found myself playing around there and on Tribes getting a feel for yet another emerging social network. There’s also SixDegrees (in beta), and if you are enterprise ready with money you can look at Spoke and Visible Path. also locked in beta. There are others too. Mostly clones.

Ross Mayfield (“The Network is the Market“) also provides an excellent technical positioning overview of Tribe and demonstrates the innovative thought going in these offerings. Matt comments here and I’m sure there are others as a vacation means I’m late to the party.

At each one I try and ask myself: “How do we all feel here?” What’s the tone? What is the brand trying to convey. Seeing as none of these are yet growing exponentially — all have failed to get into the millions I suspect core issues remain around branding, functionality and “viral” growth strategies.

For my two cents Tribe is being too structured and planned in its layout and branding. While it is crisp and organized – when I think about my networks I do with feelings, sensations, connections perhaps even trepedations. I also think directory, business cards, phone numbers. If I’m thinking about trading things (something Tribe encourages) then my online experience is dictated by eBay. There’s lots of personality in the listings on eBay. That’s missing from Tribe. Similarly the book reviews on Amazon are another way of adding color. Ryze does it by using GuestBooks. While guest books aren’t endorsements — they are an informal method of understanding the conversations around people. As such they are useful and can rapidly broker new exchanges.

While I’m on these things… I have a generaly gripe about many of the registration processes. They don’t quickly show me while I’m filling things in what others are putting in their boxes. A new registrant is going to be uncomfortable. What are you interests? Many… No be specific….. Human stories – and examples… please!

Then for participation they must be friendly, fun and inviting. If you don’t enjoy it — it won’t get done. Tribe might take on Craigslist or take people away from Friendster. I know it still in beta and I bet there are many new functionalities to come. However from what I’ve seen so far… play, chaos, individuality, is in my view too restrictive.

So I’m going out on a limb…. just before Ryze – rumoured to be readying a relaunch shows its new stripes I’ll reinforce that from a brand point of view – Ryze’s inelegance is part of it’s brand strength. Ryze was clearly created by human hands, the journey of a special person. Its useablity inelegant. Still at Ryze I feel like I own my own page. Ryze’s pages often have a chaotic appeal that Tribe in it’s current format will never achieve. At Tribe I’m part of a database – the tight pages.. no scrolling. It’s an important distinction. Ryze could learn some lessons from Tribe, while Tribe still has to learn some Ryze lessons. Yep they are ostensibly focused at different markets. Still if I was Ryze I’d add their listings functionality.

So… make these brands about people.

Some functional desires in support:

  • a great directory which I don’t need to update; including phone numbers etc.
  • to make those new connections and leverage my relationship capital.
  • integrated with my IM systems
  • with levels of disclosure
  • with keys to kill all my spam
  • to not only enable trade… but cooperative buying
  • to arrange meetings
  • accept my newsfeeds
  • be part of an indentity federation
  • integrate with my mail system
  • create consumer power

    Gee I want all these things. Is there a business model in here? That’s also a question being asked next week. Get to Vlab and attend Social Networking: Is there Really a Business Model?

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