Nobody would argue that the mammoth social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Qzone – boasting almost a billion users between them – currently dominate the social networking world. But 2011 is likely to see a considerable change in the way that users approach their social interactions. After 2010, with privacy scares, usability issues and growing boredom with their inflexibility affecting the major networks, users are beginning to look for something refreshing and different. The key is diversity – after growing vertically for a decade, social networks are now starting to spread horizontally to capture smaller but lucrative markets. Here are five trends that are likely to be in the spotlight this year.
A new independent social network, Diaspora, was announced in mid-2010. Its selling points are its open, flexible, completely customisable interface and strict approach to user privacy – two factors that Facebook users have often complained about. As Facebook continues to control users strictly and reduce privacy incrementally to boost advertising revenue, open networks (OneSocialWeb is another example) are likely to grow dramatically as web-savvy users looks for safer and user-friendlier solution.
The largest social networks are naturally generalist, not focusing on any specific hobby, location or topic. While this means that they attract a broader audience, the interactions also tend to be shallower. For those heavily involved in hobbies, projects and other areas of interest, niche communities offer both social networking and relevant, meaningful interactions. Niche communities come in all shapes and flavours, from giant art networks like DeviantArt to considerably smaller ones for beer drinkers (Coastr), single Catholics (Ave Maria Singles) and knitters (Ravelry). As web users look for a more individualised and tailored social experience, niche communities are bound to grow.
A marginal trend in years past, invite-only social networks are picking up steam as users look for more personal, exclusive and private communities to join. While usually the domain of the super-rich and well connected (aSmallWorld is a notorious example), invite-only networks are branching out into other fields – mostly professional – to capitalise on trusted connections and valued advice. Metrofunk is one example of a themed social network: members are invited from the creative trendsetting elite in film, fashion and music.
Less is more
In apparently direct contradiction to the purpose of mega-networks like Facebook, a new trend of “personal” networks is emerging – networks that limit the maximum number of connections that a user can have. For example, Path, which was launched in 2010, only allows users to have up to 50 friends. The reasoning is that a smaller network leads to more meaningful, personal and productive social interactions with “the people who matter most”. The intimate approach is likely to catch on with people who feel overwhelmed by Facebook’s slew of unfiltered and irrelevant data collected from hundreds of contacts and their wider networks.
Do it yourself
For those dissatisfied with the current social offerings, there’s an alternative – build your own social network. Powerful tools like Ning have recently enabled ordinary web users to create exactly the social networks that they want – anything from a company-specific, invite-only group to a million-member brand networks. These tools provide a wealth of features for those who appreciate customisation, allowing them to make any type of network they can imagine, and can be used as effective marketing tools for online companies.
To learn more about the importance and power of social networks, consider the University of Cape Town Internet Marketing course starts on 28 February 2011. For more information contact Abby on 021 685 4775 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.getsmarter.co.za