Note To TV: Get Your Own-Label Social Media

We all know it was Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and one or two others that got the social media wagon rolling. The first two dominate both share of mind and huge shares of active users in the space today.

But why should they be allowed to have it all their own way? Why isn’t there room for a little fragmentation?

Presumably, that was the question asked and answered by Louise Mensch, a Conservative Party Member of Parliament in the UK.  Having gained a high profile as a result of her tweets, the otherwise minor political figure has launched the almost-eponymous “Menshn” (pronounced “mention”) -- a social-media venture that focuses conversation on specific issues.

As referenced in MediaPost's Online Media Daily Europe last Tuesday, the service is currently available in the U.S. and the subject for discussion is the election. It is expected to be up and running in the UK in time to host Olympic discussions.

Leaving aside what might perhaps be seen as an irony -- a Twitter copycat being established by someone who, at best, has had a very public love-hate relationship with Twitter and its users (she uses it, she’s called for it to be shut down, she’s been the target of abuse via Twitter etc.) -- there is an interesting notion lurking here.

Menshn’s biggest challenge, of course, will not be to get people talking about either the election or the Olympics. It will be to engage in any of that discussion within its domain (having forty more characters to play with than on Twitter is unlikely to do the job).

However, the idea of content-related social domains is something that has occurred to me before. Whether sports, news, politics or entertainment-related, there are major media brands (and maybe others) that have the audience, the content rights and the pulling power to have a pretty good shot at convening their own social networks around subjects and vehicles that have already proven their worth.

We already know, for example, that food is basically the new rock 'n' roll in TV programming terms and that it’s one of the most popular subjects in social media.  Just look at Pinterest, Facebook and how Twitter lights up when "Next Food Network Star" or "Iron Chef America" is on.  Why hasn’t Scripps sought to capture this? It could put together a fully-fledged, Food Network-wide social hub that leverages the audience desire for involvement, the ability to provide additional content and engagement beyond the broadcast and – of course – the opportunity to create and leverage new online inventory.

The same could be said of the home décor side of things on HGTV.  ESPN could grab this one by the throat and own it for sport. Various news channels could go the same way.  Some prime-time drama and comedy might even have the legs to make a go of the idea.

The tools to make this sort of thing come together are no longer complex or expensive (if they ever were).  All that’s needed is the imagination and a bit of creative thinking to bring the “Conversation” back to where the content comes from in the first place. And a few bright college graduates in the team probably wouldn’t go amiss.

Certainly, plenty of dialogue will always continue outside of any one social space. But if broadcasters are looking to monetize social media, I’d be prepared to bet they’ll get there faster and achieve a better rate of return than only using Facebook, et al.

After all, if a minor UK politician can at least launch something in her spare time, just think what major media brands with marketing and management talent and an array of content rights could do.

And remember, back in the dot-com days, broadcasters were written off by Yahoo, AOL, Netscape and the rest as dinosaurs that were doomed to extinction in the face of the Web. That obviously never came to pass; major media owners have simply embraced the Web as part of what they do.

Maybe we can expect a similar evolutionary process to happen with regard to social media and the rise of Own-Label Social Networks.




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