When social networking first emerged, there was a general sense that the Internet had finally found a way to allow individuals and communities to engage in conversation freely without the presence of commercials.
It didn’t last.
Most initial social networking sites began out of a sort of anti-establishment media mentality, but like any successful application or product online, the ability to grow and sustain a successful user base can really only happen through the introduction of paid commercial space.
When examining the huge growth of social networking, the question at hand is: Will increasing corporate presence via applications, interactive ads, and fan pages compromise the integrity of social networking sites originally built on people connecting, and not on brands selling?
Today, the social networking landscape has changed dramatically from its inception. MySpace sells out and immediately blends ad monetization with user fixation. Facebook , which has surpassed all possible growth expectations, is now becoming flooded with ads, corporate fan pages, and profiles that look as if they’re for real people, but are really promotional campaigns in sheep’s’ clothing.
In addition, many micro-social networking sites are being developed and launched from commercial investment and brands that attempt to attract loyal buyers under the umbrella of their own community.
Are social networking users ready for their once promised land to become yet another corporate cloud of commercial clutter?
According to Michael Cohen of New York online advertising company Catch Interactive, the problem with social networking commercialization is not the presence of brands themselves, but how those brands are marketed online.
Indeed, the trend toward marketing seems to be cluttering the social networking cloud.
“Marketers are rushing to create applications for social networking sites without first developing a proper social media strategy. The easiest way for them to do that is to create a fan page or a widget, and that isn’t necessarily going to resonate with their target audiences.”
Should the trend continue, the social networking space and the success of sites like Facebook and MySpace may see decreasing growth trends as users declare mutiny and migrate to other, more commercial-free networking zones.
Think about it: Building a large contact network on Facebook is relatively easy, and once established, you may see large, mature groups migrate away from the ads, widgets, and useless applications that seem to detract from simple peer interaction. After all, how hard would it be to take a social group with enough critical mass and move it to a white-label site where ads are filtered out?
As radio once migrated from the airways to subscriber-paid, commercial-free, satellite and even Internet-based programming, we may end up seeing a trend where social networking sites allow members to pay a small premium not to be bothered with ads and unapproved widgets and applications.
Business social sites will see the same competition between communication and commercialization.
Will user activity or ad money dictate the future of our current social networking scene? The question will stay unanswered as long as social networking purists and the millions that tend to follow them will tolerate the growing commercialization of the social networking space.
I’ll answer all these question in my next blog. Till then give me some time to study and research more.