Given the increasing number of social networking sites, strategy offerings, analytics and insights companies, dashboards, blog scrapings, creative applications and myriad of all things "social networking," I was reminded of how the same sort of "Everyone go left" mentality hit when the user-generated content bandwagon came to town a couple of years back. Let's see, have we figured out an equivalent acronym to UGC for social networking yet... SNS? Wait, no.... we already have SMS.
Seriously, I have no beef with the social networking craze. One look at the scaling of activity on Facebook tells you this has become more than trendy. But then when entire digital agencies begin wrapping their whole portfolio under the guise of "branded social applications," you can't help but wonder whether or not we've taken things a bit too... socially.
In case you were wondering, people don't want to see us muck up yet another social networking platform with a bunch of banner ads on their profile pages. If the post-News Corp. drop-down into MySpace with banners, buttons and pop ups brazenly layered over poorly designed user-generated HTML pages wasn't enough to chase us away from MySpace, now we witness Facebook ever so carefully squeezing more and more pixels out of our profiles for those banner CPMs they just can't seem to resist.
Tread lightly. Communities, like corporate cultures, are fragile things. It doesn't take much to chase people away in droves. Which isn't to suggest that social networking is defined by activity on community sites alone. The trend, if I may take a stab at one definition of social networking strategy is to listen first to the insights and motivations being discussed in social dialogue. Then take those insights and leverage them to create impact ELSEWHERE. Which is the part so many marketers and agencies seem to be forgetting.
Sure, lots of people will declare their allegiance to a brand they like by joining a branded group or page. But that's not where the juicy unaided insights live. The deep insights to be found lie in the conversations that are un-prompted by brand stewards hoping to ride the trend.
What every creative hungers for is a brief that has some deep consumer insight about the category that their creative idea can address with the right kind of creative execution. Which is why it's curious that with so many social networking companies and experts out there, agency account planners aren't having their doors beaten down with insights for the social networking brigade.
Those who are mining social networks by listening for insights have a clear path to selling them. Consult your agency account planner. Not the media planner. The Account Planner. They're the ones that every creative relies on to deliver that great piece of insight about the category that can make the difference in a Big Idea and another trendy execution.
From this creative's perspective, if approached correctly, Social networking should go way beyond the trendy use of banners, brand pages, profiles or even free or "earned" impressions. The real trend is about listening for insight, then creating for impact.