Social networking fascinates me. It is key to a business model designed for the Web. I'll call it the Networked Presence Model.
The Networked Presence Model is built on a tried and trued marketing strategy: word of mouth. Word of mouth works well in meat-space, but extraordinarily well on the web, where it becomes word of mouth on steroids.
How so? Here's how ordinary word of mouth works. You say to someone, "I'm interested in X." "Oh," she says, "my cousin does X. Here's his contact info." or "I was reading something about that last week." or "I bought an X and it worked really well."
Here's the same interaction on the web. I use the social networking site Twitter to Tweet, "Interested in X." That message reaches FM's 1105 followers. While the vast majority will not respond, if 1% of them do, that's 11 people who may direct me to someone, or provide useful info. They may reTweet the message to their followers in turn, each of whom becomes aware of the FM twitter stream and subscribe to it and in turn be driven to the website.
Plus, when I get a recommendation, I don't just get the name of the product - I can get information such as a URL to a lengthy review, or the company's website, or a place where there's a coupon for money off. That's a harder sell than "I read about Xes a while back."
Social networks have different set-ups and take a little investigation to find out how to use them effectively. For instance, Twitter has a secondary mechanism for passing along information, hash tags. They are called hashtags because one uses the hash mark symbol, #, to indicate one. Hash tags are words that people can use to search for a common interest group, such as #books, #cats, or #pabloneruda. They are sometimes used to create an event such as #followfriday, where users broadcast their recommendations for interesting users to follow. Anyone can look for the word and find lists of users interested in being followed and following in turn.
A Twitter stream making judicious use of hash tags can steadily increase its number of followers, allowing it to drive more and more users to a website.
At the same time, using social networks, websites organized around a common interest group can fulfill a need that local newspapers once met: community news and a chance to see one's name in print, the electronic equivalent of the clipping stuck on the fridge or sent to grandpa.
Nowadays we are less engaged with our local communities and more engaged with communities of interest that are geographically widespread. Some of us may go so far as to have wide-flung families of affinity: I use Facebook to talk to my cousin, e-mail and IMs for my two best friends, bulletin boards and other networks for the many dear friends acquired through working with Armageddon MUD or Fantasy Magazine or conventions or tabletop gaming or other shared experiences.
I am interested in news of them. So if they mention a website where their name or picture or news appears, I usually click through the link or do a search, allowing a website that publishes them to expose potential new readers to the website.
So where's the money coming from in the Networked Presence model, obviously? A tried and true means -- advertising, primarily. But social networks can also be used to push related products: electronic issues of the site, print collections, and other merchandise. Through this amplified word of mouth, promotions can be targeted at groups of users that have expressed an interest in a specific category. For us, it's fantasy - someone who follows @fantasymagazine is generally someone who is interested in fantasy and many things geek.
Using social networks, I can expand the magazine's presence in certain areas. For example, in August, we'll have a special gaming focus. I can look on social networks for communities that are interested in games and post a brief mention or pointer that many will follow to the website. I can even track these efforts to see where we're most successful through tools like Google Analytics.
As part of this effort, I'll be posting about social networking and how Fantasy Magazine is using it. The different strategies, what works and what doesn't, the lessons learned and the strategies that emerge., as well as some of the social implications of marketing and information exchange on the web. High falutin' stuff! :p Anyhow, I'd love to hear thoughts or questions on any of this. Tomorrow I'll be talking about LJ plans.