by: Lynette Webb (with Dan Calladine)

Currently there remains the perception that social networking is mostly just for teens. In 2007 this will begin to change. Even though by year-end not everyone will have a Myspace (or Bebo or…) account, it will cease to be considered an unusual thing for "a grownup" to have, even if they do not refer to it as social networking, for example Linked In.

In parallel, we'll see a broadening in the way people use social networking sites**[see definition below]. Yes, many people will still tinker obsessively with their profile and cruise around leaving random messages for friends; placing it at the heart of their social life. But others - and especially those newer arrivees who are older, working, without the time or inclination to "socialise" online - will treat homepages on social networking sites more as a kind of portal, a central point for pulling together various threads of their online life. In a sense, for these people sites like MySpace will serve as the spiritual descendents of Geocities, Tripod, FortuneCity, Angelfire et al.

In 2007 we'll also see the continued rise of niche community sites focused around particular interests, such as cycling, golf, gardening, etc. Some of these may be long-established online communities that extend into the social networking arena; others may be new. Most will come to form part of the eco-system for the big social networking sites, via offering plug-in functions and 'badges' within profiles. The big social networking sites will remain the backbone, but will be persuaded (by consumer demand and occasionally cold hard cash) to provide ever greater flexibility and scope for customising.

[**DEFINITION - Just to clarify… In my eyes the term "social networking” is mostly a description of functionality - the ability for people to create profiles that are public; the ability to link to other people on the site; the ability to post messages for others to see such as via a blog that's part of your 'homepage' or via comments, etc. A lot of websites have this kind of social networking functionality, indeed it's almost de rigeur these days. But there's a subset of sites that are different, for whom social networking functionality is the very essence of their being, their primary raison d'etre. When I talk about "social networking sites” it is this subset - MySpace, Bebo, Facebook, etc - that I mean. Sites like Flickr and YouTube have social networking functionality as an important part of their offering, BUT it's not the primary reason for their existence.]


**** In 2007 brands will become much smarter in how they participate and tap into the power of social networking. They'll learn how to use them to listen better to find out what's on the minds of their target audiences. They'll learn how to better harness them for research. They'll begin to get accustomed to taking part in conversations without trying to dominate and wrest control. Most importantly, they'll get smarter about how they assess the ROI of their social networking activities, in terms of setting objectives and defining metrics.

**** Brands will also have to follow social networks down the diversification route. It will no longer be enough for Brand X to have one personality within a social network - instead within Brand X Product A will have a profile, and Product B a different profile, in the same way that two members of the same family have different tastes and interests. Similarly, brands will have proper personalities (and someone will be paid to post in the personality of the brand) rather than the current situation where people post ’thanks for the ad!" on their pages with no interaction in the other direction.

This is part of a series of predictions for 2007 developments, prepared jointly with my colleague, Dan Calladine, for Isobar Global.
Opinions are ours personally and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Isobar group.

Image CC thanks to Miskan 

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