Social & B2B Networks – Evolution or Revolution?

Again I am posting here some thoughts I shared in a LinkedIn discussion (kind of the reverse norm for LI I think) so again they are brought into this environment where I hope to speak in every increasing detail about a variety of subjects I believe get more hype than substance in more general social and B2B networking sites.

The question posed was, and I paraphrase here a bit, “are social networks replacing advertising?”. The multiple comments prior to my inputting had been simply wonderful with some of the most balanced observations about social network marketing I have seen without a heavy interjection of the hype, almost religious in nature, from real hard core social networking devotees.

I of course went slightly a different way:

What I find most interesting about these discussions is how they seem to discount even ignore the fact that although we call these “social networks” and they have evolved, as far as user interfaces and site functionality is concerned, in many ways out of the affinity network sites which have been around for years. These sites in turn grew out of the BBS and Undernet chat rooms of the Internet’s distant past (more BBS than chat).

Unlike the affinity sites (I am most familiar with those of a music industry nature…talkbass.com being the one I was most active in) the social network is based on relationships in the real world (and those I suppose you now establish virtually), both old and new, whereas the affinities have some hobby, professional niche or other common interest that is more specific than I know you and you know me.

These groups have always had to balance advertising and more important to this thread, how discussion based interaction between a (for ease I will use a talkbass.com example) member of the group who is also representing a service or manufacturer who wishes to sell to this audience without it becoming a flaming bloodbath of hostility from other participants passionate about their art but not willing to be marketed to in a discussion forum unless it is clear that is your purpose (they do it by identifying in the online “signature” the individuals endorsement or employment status so that other participants can weigh their comments or “buying suggestions” accordingly. Often the folks who are industry reps and there in part to bring back customers are also the most helpful, have an obvious ability to be honest and even handed in their recommendations. Many will suggest another manufacturer or service when it is clear they do not have the right solution for the participant.

I will also point out that it takes a considerable amount of effort and time to get to a place where you are accepted by the group and certainly after the hard work is done there is evidence that it has had a favorable affect on the business as many have been involved in these types of sites for over ten years (yes Virginia there were social networks of a fashion prior to YouTube, MySpace and Facebook) and in their particular niches have become experts at integrating and using both site advertising, discussion leadership and participation in day to day discussions that have a positive affect on both the participants and the web community they are part of.

Much of the discussion I read here at LinkedIn concerning social network marketing seems to not recognized the evolutionary path that social and business networking sites sprang from and as such often don’t look to those past, and in many cases still active, niche affinity networks and sites for clues on how to effectively market in both B2B sites (like this one) which are really the closest to an “affinity” network as well as how to do it in a more “social” environment as the more sophisticated affinity sites have well integrated approaches to both site ads and “discussion” marketing.

As for the original question I prefer “evolve” over a prediction of a specific end to an activity relating to the marketing and selling of products and/or services to humans…I wanted very much to predict the end of disco but I hear it’s coming back…like bad 50’s rock…to state at this time that any of these networks will replace and eventually eliminate all other forms of human communication is far too “crystal ball” for my sensibilities.

This of course precludes the eventual inclusion by Walmart of every conceivable product and service known to man and their complete enslavement of the entire human race…at a low low price and questionable quality…at which point they will outlaw advertising and this discussion will be rendered moot.

The original discussion can be found here: http://www.linkedin.com/groupAnswers?viewQuestionAndAnswers&discussionID=15877628&gid=145854&commentID=13659722&trk=view_disc

Several of the comments thus far are very insightful and I encourage any readers of this blog to visit those as well.

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