With the success of My Space, Facebook and LinkedIn, many media companies have launched (or are considering launching) online social networking sites aimed at their constituencies. The question is: Are such programs viable in niche b-to-b markets?
The answer is that social networking sites are probably not for every industry. Seth Alpert, managing director of media investment bank AdMedia Partners, said vertical search may provide a cautionary tale for b-to-b publishers hoping to generate revenue via online social networking.
“I think it's going to be very tough,” Alpert said of the prospects for b-to-b social networking. He pointed out that as recently as three or four years ago, the success of Google prompted many to believe that vertical search would be a strong revenue producer for niche b-to-b publishers. For the most part, it hasn't worked out that way.
“Google is a habit, and habits are hard to break,” Alpert said. “You've got to have a good reason to break that habit.”
He cautioned that MySpace and similar social networking sites, which have already aggregated large audiences and are dividing them into smaller, niche groups, are habit forming—and may have beaten b-to-b publishers to the punch. “The big challenge in starting something is getting a conversation going,” he said.
Do: Consider creating a social networking site if your audience is large—say, more than 100,000 people.
Don't: It's wrong to assume a social networking site takes minimal work. It must at the very least be monitored and often seeded with content to create more postings.