Audio: Social Networks, Should companies build their own (White Label) or join existing ones (like Facebook)

Are you thinking about building a community on your own domain with one of the 70 white label social networking tools?

Or have you thought about joining an existing community on a social network like Facebook or MySpace?

We thought this heated debate was over, I took heat from Shel Israel and Doc Searls (look at all the trackbacks and comments) for my stance that in some situations, brands should build their own social networks.

Brian Oberkirch fired up a thoughtful post on why he didn’t want to join the Fast Company social network. Ted Shelton of the Conversation Group charged an email to me, and we started a friendly debate, eventually we agreed that an audio podcast would make good discussion over this topic, and we were also joined by Chris Heuer also of the Conversation Group.

Listen into the discussion as we delve into the topic of brands joining and/or building social networks (about 20 minutes MP3)

If this is a topic that intersets you: you either are going to deploy a community strategy, or you’re one of the 70 vendors or work at a social network like Facebook, Bebo, Hi5, Tagged, LinkedIn, Dogster, or MySpace, I have an upcoming research report called “Social Networks: When should brands build and join” that will publish for clients in the near future (it’s just getting the final touches put on it).

And by the way, as many savvy readers have pointed out, the future strategy will more than often be “and”.

(Update: Elizabeth Albrycht extends some thoughtful insight The Question Concerning Social Networks: Existence or Meaning?

13 Replies to “Audio: Social Networks, Should companies build their own (White Label) or join existing ones (like Facebook)”

  1. JKO: fun! We should do more talks like this. Lemme say, though, I did join It was just a hassle; one I think most people won’t go through for most brands. So my key points are: figure out the ways you can bake ‘social’ into your many sites to make it as easy for your users as possible. Rolling your own network may not be the right play. In fact, I’d say it’s going to be the rare case.

  2. I am a little limited because the company I am working with has already deployed their own…but struggling with user adoption.

    I am finding balance with developing a line of OpenSocial and Facebook(c’mon facebook get with the program) apps as well as a line of widgets.

    So I am finding a balance between having our own and having a presence on existing networks.

  3. Using outside networks is great, like Kin suggests sometimes getting users to actually ENJOY using the social network is sometimes hard. We’re in the process of replacing some networks that went in a year or two ago, but nobody used because they were so complicated and often filled with business features as well as social and publishing which makes things more complicated to use.

    It is still important to operate the network under your own brand, otherwise your asking customers to go somewhere else to buy your services!

  4. As the founder of a leading white-label social media software company you might expect me to be all for building, but I™m not. There is a tool for every situation and the reality is that a white-label social network is useless without a commitment to content creation and delivering a value to the community members.

    Without the internal resources or budget to outsource this expertise, I think organizations are better off leveraging existing networks. The ˜build it and they will come™ philosophy hurts our industry more than anything else.

  5. I think brands and web publishers need to think of a holistic social media strategy that may very well include both their own community but also how their brand and social presence surfaces on large, general social networks. Or, some combination of that.

    It comes down largely to intent. Both intent of the web publisher/brand but also intent of its audience. Not sure about you but my mindset on MySpace and Facebook is very different from my mindset when I’m on Fast Company’s community or Bonnaroo’s. But yet, there are instances where I’ll interact with my Bonnaroo centric friends on Facebook and vice versa. To say that it’s one or the other is over simplifying me as a person.

    As a brand, why wouldn’t you want to be where your audience/customer is (whether you create it or someone else has)?

    At the end of the day, shouldn’t our online social presence mimic our real world human behaviors? Does anyone only read the NY Times? Does anyone only read Cosmo or Car & Driver? Don’t they all serve a different purpose in our lives? Facebook/MySpace serves a very different purpose to a niche community (it’s about context). Each person probably has the capacity for a handful of these niche networks and places they’ll hang out at–again, in real life we have a finite group of friends and interests.

    For a brand/web publisher, it comes down to what’s your intent and goals with your social media strategy.

  6. Michael Wilson: I totally agree. Unless you have must-visit content or a sister website that delivers traffic (ie a magazine website and you’re thinking of bolting on UGC) then I would steer clear of building your own site.

    As 21publish has found with Zoo magazine’s website in the UK, clients are seeing value in the integration of UGC into an existing, popular destination website.

    But hey, according to user stats yesterday, Facebook et al’s days are numbered. Well, maybe. They’re losing users yes, but does that mean they’re bored of social networks or have they just been attracted to another shiny thing? (no intended reference to Shiny Media’s ((superb)) blogs here by the way).

  7. I think the specific business case for creating a “new” social network is important to consider here.

    We’ve launched a private social network using the Ning platform. And for us, the idea was to develop a way for our global teams to 1) become more familiar with social networks, blogs, etc. and get first-hand experience using them. And 2) to develop relationships among teammates around the globe. Although we discussed using Facebook or another existing public platform, we ultimately built our own using Ning, to provide a safe learning environment not in the public domain.

    We™ve seen good interaction already with about 95% of our employees participating and about half of them blogging.

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