by: Josh Hawkins
I try not to make too many armchair predictions, but after the New York Times reported Cisco's recent acquisition of social networking service Tribe.net, I'm throwing caution to the wind.
There seems to be no question that this will be the year of the white label social networking service. For the remainder of this year and into 2008, I see several important trends taking root.
First, media owners will increasingly understand that they can mobilize their own fans and brand evangelists to organize, promote and market through existing channels, without hemorrhaging eyeballs (and adverting dollars) to YouTube and MySpace. We will see an increasing number of mini social networks pop up around programming, events and niche interests. And new white label social networking services will be used to harness the power of fans and cross promote new programming.
Second, it's undeniable that CGM, in its many forms, has changed the media landscape leaving marketers scrambling to figure out how to reach and engage splintered and self-selected audiences. Brand managers everywhere have asked their agencies to figure it out - "why aren't we on YouTube?" Both sides of the agency house have undertaken their own strategies to answer this question: media buyers are doing ad insertions and contextual advertising at the major social media sites; and creatives have hatched elaborate CGM campaigns to recruit consumers to upload homespun ads into YouTube with the hopes of sparking the next viral video craze.
As my colleague Adam Gerber often says, "context is king." This year agencies will stop doing CGM just to do it. Instead they will seek out opportunities to recruit and blend professional creative with amateur content harvested from brand evangelists. Instead of navigating the circus that is YouTube, brand marketers will use white label social networking services to provide deep and engaging experiences that repackage CGM and professional programming in new and interesting ways.
Third, you can expect to see an explosion of startups provide the plug-and-play social network for media owners and brand marketers. (Just like online video editing, white label social networking software and services will be a significant force in Silicon Valley this year).
I know what you're saying: "You can't buy social networks." And I agree. But these white label solutions give media owners and marketers an opportunity to augment and amplify the integrated and multi-channel campaigns which they already have in motion to activate like-minded individuals. Social network just give consumers an outlet to express themselves and participate in a community.
Finally, I think we will see an increasing number of larger destination sites disaggregate themselves and channel down into niche sites for various communities of interest. (Think Yahoo!'s launch of Yahoo! Food http://food.yahoo.com, MTV's micro-programming initiative, YouTube's launch of "You Choose" http://www.youtube.com/youchoose). The next logical step is to offer this niche content as a widget that can be integrated into blogs, MySpace pages, and other sites, providing opportunities for consumers to participate and submit CGM to these niche channels. White label social networking services have an opportunity to leverage this trend in disaggregation among major portals and social media destinations and provide a distributed widget-based opportunity.
We're already seeing this to varying degrees, so I guess my armchair prediction isn't very daring. But, I do think it represents a new phase of growth for both Internet video and online social networks.