A Debate: Can the Social Graph be Monetized?

Background info: Social Graph
If you’re not familiar with the social graph, it’s a representation of our relationships in social networks. There’s a movement underway to be able to separate our social graphs from the social networks, so we can ‘transport’ our friends whatever website we decide to use –without having to re add them. Start with Explaining what the “Social Graph” is to your Executives.

Last night, at a roundtable hosted by the Conversation Group and new company called Something Simpler we conversed > debated > argued if the Social Graph can indeed be monetized.

Tom Foremski also fears monetization and suggests that “I think this could be the Achilles’ heel of social networks–if you push the monetization too far–you will lose your networks.” Tom wasn’t alone, as Om Malik suggested that the only way you could monetize the graph was to ‘pimp your friends’.

Yet John McCrea and I agreed, I suggested that authentic, efficient, word-of-mouth can evolve to information no longer being advertising. I’m talking about natural endorsements. How could this work? It happens every day. Many of my friends tell me which brands they like by simply wearing the logos, driving a brand car, to outright telling me what they like. Can this truly be different on the web? Why does it scare us so? I mean just last night, Salim Ismail from Yahoo’s Brickhouse (also on the panel) whispered into my ear, he had questions about my new Nokia N95, I gave him my clear and honest feedback –without being paid by Karl Long, Nokia’s top blogger.

Even if we agreed, aggregating the Social Graph isn’t easy

The challenges continue to mount, besides the fact we can’t agree if we should move forward, trying to implement will be a challenge. Aggregating the social graph (which is what we’re trying to do) has many obstacles, here’s a few from a recent blog post on the topic:

-Social Network vendors scared to open up and let customers and their relationships easily move to other networks
-Agreement needed between all vendors and participants
-Ownership over project and data
-Lack of general market awareness
-User adoption (sadly, I think most users are sheep)
-Likely, a need for a single login
-Creation and costs of third-party silo
-Privacy concerns: many European countries may not embrace
-Multiple security issues
-Legal and government may get involved

[When it comes to friends and marketing, trust continues to be a point of contention. Yet for every free service people rush to use, they forget that they are the ones entering the data, and that companies need to monetize. A balance must be struck as success will require trusted and authentic marketing]

Votes from around the room

If things weren’t cloudy enough, at the close, we went around the room to give our final thoughts and to answer “Can the Social Graph be Monetized?”. Chris Heuer was recording, and I hope he posts it up, yet I took a tally from the attendees.

Votes | Answer
3 – Users must engage with social graph first/ monetization comes later
2 – Brands will benefit by ‘pullling’ social graphs (communities) to their site
2 – Over advertising will kill it
1 – Embed in Value now
1 – Advertising (but must be honest) can work
2 – It can’t be monetized

Your voice wanted
Enough. Let’s turn it over to you. Can the social graph be monetized? Chime in the comments. What would make it work, what are the pitfalls. Can marketers make money in an authentic and trustful way using social networks?

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