The Many Challenges of Social Network Sites

In this blog, I strive to provide a balanced viewpoint of both the benefits and challenges of a web strategy, it’s easy for us to become over-hyped and then fall right into the pit of exuberance.

From white label social networks to existing social networks like Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, and on, there’s been much hoopa raised. Yet, we should always remember the challenges that are facing these tools, as there are many difficulties to overcome.

The Many Challenges of Social Networks:
Each of the following hurdles can be overcome, but first, let’s identify them.

Difficult to Monetize
Even Google says it’s having a hard time monetizing social networks, why? The use case is completely different. Members aren’t hunting for information like they do on a search, instead they are communicating with each other, and self-expressing. (We’ve data to back that up too), Bakardo agrees. How bad is bad? “Marketers say as few as 4 in 10,000 people who see their ads on social networking sites click on them”

Excess of Players
In the case of the many white label social networks (white label means you can rebrand, and create your own Facebook), there are too many players in the space. As a result, I spoke with CIO magazine and share with them our thoughts on the future of these many products. Consolidation will happen, and many will be irrelevant.

As Marketers Move In, Users Move Out
Remember Friendster? Tribe, or waay back and eCircles? Nothing is new, as communities form, marketers will move in, and in some cases bastardize the experience and the hip, cool, influencers will leave to the next network.

Untrustworthy Member Data
In many cases (I’ve seen reports of up to one-third) of users submit inaccurate information on their profile. As a result, marketing efforts will not be aimed at the right audiences, members continuing to be an elusive target.

Lack of Metrics Makes Success Hard to Measure
For many marketers who want to deploy a campaign on a social network, access to server metrics isn’t always available. As a result, they have to often visually monitor the interaction on the site, or measure click throughs to their site. In some of the more sophisticated platforms, a crude dashboard is provided.

Stalkers and Other Unwanted Activity Ruins Lives
Child stalkers in MySpace continues to be a problem, and in some cases, masking oneself as someone else is easy, and to readily fool others. As a result, one young teen committed suicide from the deception, rejection, and embarrasment from a peer’s mother.

Privacy Concerns Mount as Developers Move In
The great hoopla and community push back from the recent Beacon experiment, launching of newsfeeds, and social networks sharing too much information with third party widget developers puts members at risk, and visibly makes them uncomfortable.

Strings Attached to Membership: Difficult to Leave
According to this NYT article, leaving Facebook is difficult, there are hooks, saved accounts, and ways to continue to reconnect to the site, even after you’ve left.

Plateau or Social Network Fatigue?
I’m starting to see some reports from sources that suggest that the usage of social networks are slowing down, if not reducing perhaps it’s from the endless tasks that occur, or the shinyness has rubbed off.

Successful Networks have hard time scaling
Facebook and Twitter (yes a social network too) are suffering from scaling issues, as a result, their sites have a great deal of downtime or latency. The complicated applications will only increase in intricacy as more users are added.

Loss in workplace productivity “Social not-working”
Companies, organizations, and individuals are concerned about the time wasted in managing social network profiles, in some cases, companies have banned Facebook from their employees, often using Firewalls. (submitted by Beth Kanter and David Mitchell in comments)

Got others? leave a comment
If you’ve got one that I missed, I may add it here and credit you.

Need more information? check out my weekly digest of the social networking space that I publish every Wednesday.

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