Erin’s Blog

Is it time to say goodbye to social networking sites?

To how many social networking sites do you belong? 2? 5? I had a Xanga when I was in high school, a lot of my friends did. Once I realized how weird it was to have a diary up for public display I erased the site and founded a Myspace page. I have a few pictures; lots of friends, mostly just waste time with surveys and receive updates from some of my favorite, or at least some local, bands. Easy peasy. Then, about four years ago, this miraculous thing called Facebook came out and everyone hopped on board with that. I admit it: I. Love. Facebook. It’s what I do when I’m bored, when I need a break from staring at a Word document all day, what I do when I just can’t read and highlight anymore for class. I have all my pictures on there, comment on my friend’s status, etc. I’m an active and happy Facebook user! But what about all those other sites out there that I don’t know how to use that others have flocked to? Twitter? Flickr? Because of this class I’ve created a WordPress page, but there are tons of blogging sites. How many of those do you belong to!? There couldn’t possibly be a day when social networking of this kind won’t exist…right?

Network Usage in 2007

Network Usage in 2007

Some people beg to differ. “Social networks face a tough time in 2009,” says Robert Andrews in his  blog Social networks face challenging 2009; must monetize or die  “When the twin realities of disappointing ad sales and the worsening economy will dawn on the [social networking] sector.” He goes on to say that Paul Lee, a Deloitte analyst has already found that social networks quickly build a fan base but fail to profit from the tens of millions of users. “Average revenue per user for some of the largest new media sites are measured in just pennies per month, not pounds. This compares with a typical average revenue per user or tens of dollars for a cable subscriber, a regular newspaper reader, or a movie fan. Social networks may need at least 100 users to generate the equivalent revenues of every traditional media customer they compete with.”

Lee explains that although the monetization angle, which has been encouraged throughout 2008, will eventually be figured out in time. But, as for right now, with 2009’s much harsher financial outlook “combined with an expected contraction in online advertising,” networks will need to focus on making money from their existing members than attempting to add new users to their network.

But what is making these sites less popular, less able to generate revenue?

Social network traffic is down. Considerably down. There are privacy issues (ahem, Facebook), some sites charge their members, companies are buying out other companies and ending the good thing they all had going. Is this the swan song of social networking sites, just a few years after they began? Tony Effik, a London-based communications strategist says no, social networking is here to stay. His March 2008 post entitled The Transition In Social Networking Sites reassures us network users. “Social networking was here before social networking sites, in forms such as email and news groups. These new sites just made it easier.”

Some say it’s out, some say it’s in, are there any suggestions or ideas for the future?

Effik explains “What’s likely to happen going forward is that community elements get embedded into some of our everyday applications such as email, calendar, and address functionality, search engines, and portals. I expect social networking to become a feature of other services, rather than a destination as it is now.”

“Additionally,” he continues, “with data portability, you will not be locked to just one provider going forward…You’ll be able to connect to friends wherever they are, and whatever networks they are on. And if you choose to leave a network your data will come with you.”

Free social networking site Plaxo has already made moves to become this way. “It’s like a personal news page that automatically brings you what your family, friends, and business connections are choosing to share from all over the web” by incorporating content, as well as data, from Flickr, Bebo, Twitter, Blogger, Amazon, YouTube, and many more “once you tell it who you want to connect with.”

Sounds like Facebook stalking to the extreme to me…but hey, isn’t that why we post things online, anyway? To have all of our friend and family, if given permission, to see what we’re up to? If I hear a backlash of “Oh no, that’s like ‘big brother,’ I don’t want my information all over the Internet,” I’m going to scream. It’s like when I watch Law & Order: SVU (the best of all the Law & Orders, thank you very much) and they ask for DNA samples just to rule out potential suspects. How many times have we seen someone say “No, that’s the ultimate invasion of privacy, I won’t be a part of it.” Well, buddy, if you don’t want to give up a little bit of your right to privacy, which the government most likely already knows all about without your knowledge, you’ll be a suspect and maybe even charged. Which is worse, huh? Just like the Internet, your information’s out there whether you like it or not. Do your best to keep things as private as possible, but just know that it’s already out there and there’s nothing you can do!

But I digress.

I did find a nifty chart showing the decline in numbers for U.S. social networking sites on a blog about finance and technology. It’s a little outdated with the newest numbers from 2007, but it still gets its point across:

Average Minutes per Visitor Dec-06 Jan-07 Feb-07     Oct-07 Nov-07 Dec-07
Total Internet : Total Audience  1,764.90 1,746.90 1,721.90     1,817.70 1,732.70 1,684.90
MYSPACE.COM 234.6 227.5 184.8     192.9 196 179.3
BEBO.COM 213.3 417 302.7     231.8 246.8 173.9
FACEBOOK.COM 150.4 170.2 199.9     195.6 189.7 169.4
HI5.COM 22.7 34 28.1     53.6 62.5 56.6
FRIENDSTER.COM 39.5 38.6 31.5     109.2 69.8 39.2
Windows Live Spaces 17.3 14.6 17.2     14 13.2 14.9
LINKEDIN.COM 8 6.7 5     8.7 9.9 7.1
Unique Visitors (000) Dec-06 Jan-07 Feb-07     Oct-07 Nov-07 Dec-07
Total Internet : Total Audience  174,199 175,559 175,653     182,206 182,362 183,619
MYSPACE.COM 60,887 61,524 64,443     71,982 68,746 68,905
FACEBOOK.COM 19,105 18,961 16,737     32,910 33,660 34,658
Windows Live Spaces 9,589 9,057 8,320     9,854 9,884 8,912
BEBO.COM 2,977 3,602 2,641     4,442 3,674 4,279
LINKEDIN.COM 872 1,122 1,211     2,782 2,784 2,868
HI5.COM 3,029 2,299 2,640     2,454 2,165 2,483
FRIENDSTER.COM 1,103 1,288 1,379     1,668 1,687 1,791

Eesh! Less people are participating in social networking while at the same time those that continue to participate are spending less time on the sites! So, in 2007 after looking through these numbers, it was decided that there would be a continuing slowing or declining growth within these sites making it harder to generate sales and profits. This would have lead to more pressure on advertising to deliver the same results. But, as we’ve seen in 2009, there’s less advertising on these sites leading to further declining numbers and profits. Oy vey.

I have to say, I don’t think social networking is dead at all, but it certainly is in the ICU.