Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Viability and Monetization Potential of Social Networks

Is there money to be made in social networks (SN)? Well if you are interested in SN’s and are a developer or an entrepreneur building tools that leverage SN’s in the web 2.0 world, or for the mobile arena, then that is a very important question for you. As an entrepreneur myself developing products for the mobile presence space, I am constantly quizzing myself with the single question “Can the business model work or sustain in this changing eco-system”? Well, if you are interested in finding out more, you should set aside the last Monday of this month (July 28th 2008) and come to the Mobile Monday event at the Samsung Experience Center (10 Columbus Circle, NYC) for an expert-panel discussion. Lubna Dajani of Stratamerge and Co-founder at mobilemonday-NY, will be moderating a panel of experts, entrepreneurs and others with the discussion centered on the subject The Viability and Monetization Potential of Social Networks”. She does plan to share some of her initial findings of Stratemerge™’s study on social networks and debate the findings and potential market implications.

Current methods of monetization come from two areas. One is the advertisers, who flock to the sites despite the anemic response rates. The second method involves the user who pays for some premium service. SN operators, who rely solely on ad based revenue models, have to convince their customers that there is continued value in advertising on these networks.

A recent BusinessWeek article titled "Generation Myspace is Getting Fed Up" revealed certain shocking advertisement metrics; Response rates of 0.04% (on SN’s) compared to a 0.2% in general on the web. Response rate numbers like 0.04% to 0.2% cannot continue to be an acceptable ROI number for those who spend money on advertisements on the web. One industry executive put it right when he said, "it’s really hard to make money when the click through rate is that anemic". Read my article "Ad Deluge on our senses" written earlier this year. Another report in "VentureBeat", reported flat to falling ad revenues for June 08. What is interesting to note in that report is the pubmatic's ad price index of web publishers by site type. One can clearly see that SN sites have the lowest ECPM's among the other site types. You can find more details on the report at pubmatic's site.
Will consumers pay to play in a SN? The value of the extended social network fades over time unless there is a continued exchange of relevant and contextual dialogue. One has to ask the question, “What is my network’s NET-worth”? How exactly am I benefiting by participating in the SN’s? SN’s will need to continue to provide overall value to the community and unique value to each user. If this duality is not satisfied, the users will leave.

In my personal opinion, as the world moves toward mobile gadgets and phones, factors such as relevance and context become more important. Desktop centric SN users’ initial euphoric experience of finding and reconnecting with old friends is usually followed by information overload and eventual disillusion. The ad model will also have to change and provide users with a meaningful experience as opposed to pure product promotion. It is imperative that new applications provide a platform for intelligent information delivery, one that provides immense value to the user in their daily activities.

SN sites will also have to control spammers and unwanted business solicitation that irritate users. Twitter (a microblogging site), a service that I use, is an example where this happens. Many businesses hide their real identity, get accounts on twitter, try and get people to follow them so that they can spam them with the irrelevant material. As for me, my current rule is to periodically scan my followers and delete/block those who have no profile information. I try and control what’s relevant and contextual to me. Recent reports by bloggers and other SN site users have evidenced the fact that some of the SN application sites are resporting to spam themselves in an effort to increase their user base leaving a very bad user experience for the end user.

SN’s will have to create new forms of attention aggregation and inform, entertain and allow for fulfilling content consumption to effectively provide a platform for monetization.