Remember the 90’s? Portals were all the craze. Each site wanted to become a portal because advertising would pay for everything. Even the sushi lunches and ‘dress-up-your-cubicle-because-we-expect-you-to-work-24/7’ contests. When I hear discussions between media professionals about social networks, I’m reminded of pre-bubble times because everybody focuses on monetization. More importantly, everybody still believes that advertising will pay for everything.
Social Networks exist because people want to connect. They don’t exist to sell eyeballs to advertisers. The whole idea of inviting people into a walled garden will sound absurd in a few years. The Internet is like New York: eclectic, bizarre, fun, annoying, loud, inspiring, tiring. The moment you try to turn it into a gated community, you kill the essence of the Internet Experience.
The reason why we experience monetizing issues with Facebook and MySpace is the underlying paradigm of selling eyeballs. People that frequent social networks don’t see themselves as eyeballs. And they become very sensitive and defensive when they are treated that way. People don’t care about business models. Instead, they expect a useful experience from a social network. Not an interruptive content experience. Brands and Wall Street have to understand this monumental paradigm shift. (So forget about that Facebook IPO.)
Brands that consider social networks as fertile grounds to add value, connect and build relationships with people will succeed. Brands that see social networks as another opportunity to get eyeballs will fail. Miserably.