Social Networking Meets the Mainstream

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Business has gotten the message: Pay attention to social media, and begin to figure it out. The Social Networking Conference, held Thursday and Friday this week in San Francisco, aims to help them figure out how to do it.

As usual, conference speakers emphasized authenticity, empowering users and creating a good experience for end-users. Mark Brooks, a consultant on Internet dating and social networking, and editor of Social Networking Watch, told the audience, "MySpace got the model really right. It allowed people to connect on their point of passion, empowered them to create absolutely horrible Web pages. They were crazy pages --but they were their pages."

According to Brooks, advertising remains the biggest source of revenue for the industry. The $1 billion ad spend this year is expected to exceed $4 billion by 2011, Brooks said. "I think there's a lot of money in niche sites, where advertisers can find people with one strong interest," he said.

The mobile social applications sector South Korea is the top user of social networking sites, with 66 percent of its citizens having used one; the United States is fifth in such usage, Brooks said. In the mobile world, the biggest action is still sending and receiving photos or videos, with 23 percent in the United States and 26 percent globally sharing their media this way. "We've hardly scratched the surface with mobile social networking, however," Brooks told the audience.

MySpace and Facebook are the fastest growing in terms of mobile traffic trends. MySpace expects half its traffic to be mobile in the future, thanks to its deals with 23 carriers in 13 countries to date.

Businesses should take a strategic approach when moving into social media, according to Steve Ennen, director of business development for Neighborhood America, a provider of software as a service that lets companies build online and mobile social networks. "Understand not just the toolbox but the goals," he told the conference audience.

Defining success

Companies also need to define the metrics for success. "As a brand owner you can't control the message, but you can control the environment," he said. "Managing the community to facilitate the conversation is the best way."

Fat bellies

"It's a community based on, of all things, fat bellies," Ennis said. "It's a fascinating phenomenon." The comments are encouraging, showing that a strong community will police itself, he said. The 24,000 members have generated more than $500,000 in new ad revenue.

At perhaps the other end of the spectrum, the United States Air Force is using social media extensively, despite some cultural barriers. The military must balance information dissemination and security issues, but it's working that out. For example, Air Force personnel use chat extensively via a PC-based application. Each person is allowed a limited amount of friends with whom to chat, and the application, developed by Roundarch, is secure.

This article was first published on InternetNews.com.

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