I continue to be surprised by things I learn each week about the history of the Internet, social media and digital communications. This week, my gee-whiz moment came when I learned that LinkedIn is one of the oldest social networks. It was founded in 2003 and was the first professional networking site. It’s interesting that LinkedIn has adapted and thrived, while its contemporaries like Friendster and Myspace have gone the way of the dinosaur.
That brings me to the bulk of our discussion this week – what exactly constitutes a social media platform, and what makes a successful social network? The parameters we used to define social media made sense – users can construct a public profile within a bounded system, can articulate a list of users with whom they share a connection, and can view and traverse a list of connections and those made by others on the system. By those definitions, it’s pretty easy to identify the true social networks, but as we looked into specific social platforms, it was interesting to see that there are a number of platforms that were not founded as social media, but have integrated social media aspects to make them more successful and keep users involved. Commerce platforms, in a bid to stay relevant, are recognizing the demand for a social experience in everything and are integrating those features into their services. So, instead of just buying a movie ticket, apps like Fandango allow users to share on social media what movie they are seeing or have seen, along with reviews of movies and other people’s movie preferences. Or a beauty service booking app we learned about in class that allows users to connect with stylists and see examples of their work and ask questions before booking an appointment.
So, while it’s easy to recognize true social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, it’s becoming evident that a great number of platforms and apps can loosely be defined as social, due to the interactive features they are incorporating. Of course, they still have to protect their bottom line, so all these social features have to be monetized in some way. But with users who are so savvy to advertising, I think it’s difficult for businesses to find the right balance of monetizing their social features without turning people off. This taps into the feeling of ownership that people have over the Internet and social media, which is displayed in the online outrage we see over things like an update to the Facebook operating system or new ads integrated into Gmail. Finding this balance is crucial for businesses to stay alive, because, as we see around us every day, the up and coming generations do not just desire a social experience online, they demand it. Even when doing something as simple as shopping for socks or reading the latest sports report.