The term “Social Media” is catch-all for a multitude of web based services that bear little similarity to each other beyond their location on your nearest device.
Each tries to deliver a compelling and differentiated benefit, often to a very narrow but geographically spread user base.
It seems to me that there are a number of categories in the social media eco-system, just as there are product categories in a supermarket, and consumers benefit by understanding the role of each category, just as in a supermarket, to enable the best use decision to be made.
Here are my product categories:
- Sound bites. Designed to attract attention for further investigation. Twitter is the king of sound-bites, 140 characters with links and search capabilities.
- Taste-tester. Sites that offer you a taste of something more, a reason to have an increasing engagement. Facebook created this category, replacing the original brand, My-space with a superior offering, but is now being attacked by Google+ who have introduced a couple of new pack sizes and colors and are trumpeting them as genuine innovations. Of a different product line, but still in the category is YouTube, simply a bigger bite from a different product to taste.
- Taste-tester Premium. Similar role to the original, just more targeted to a user need. LinkedIn is the original, now stretching into providing other services like closed systems that require you to be a member of something outside LinkedIn to gain membership. The Australian Institute of Company Directors, AICD, now has a closed group on LinkedIn that is proving to be very attractive to AICD members. A bit like a platinum Amex.
- Mine, not yours. Closed systems controlled to within a defined arena, a social media substitute for an intranet. Salesforce.com’s “chatter” is one such service housed within their cloud CRM offering, but they can be offered on a company’s server just as easily with a whole range of search, co-ordination and networking capabilities.
- Here ’tis. Sites that offer you the opportunity to find stuff. Google is the giant of this cateogry, but there are many additional services, Meetup, EBay, 4 square, and many others that make up this very fragmented category. You can find anything from an address, where your SM friends are hanging out, an obscure product for sale or swap, a service to be provided, or a car to hire.
- The co-ordinator. This is your website, the place to which all your other stuff is connected, and provides a serious foundation for activity, information, and directing to the most appropriate location.
The whole ecosystem is a bit like an large iceberg with many peaks and crevasses showing above the water, but much more hidden beneath the waterline that floats it. This can be dangerous, as it can do a “Titanic” and sneak up and rip the heart out before you have the time to react.