Birds of a Feather Flock Together – Social Media Marketing Becomes ‘Interest’ing
When marketers marry audience interests with social media marketing, the result is a heady mix of high brand engagement and recall.
When computers were still a new concept, they were seen as productivity enablers that isolated the user from human contact primarily because of the way it had to be used – one person at a time with no connect with other human beings. However, social networking began to surface eventually albeit in a very crude form and much before the advent of the internet. Case in point is the Bulletin Board System (BBS) which worked with the help of telephone connections and allowed users to post messages to each other and download files or games. Since the usual telephone tariffs applied, it became predominantly restricted to locals who formed a sort of community, breaking the notion of the computer being apt for loners.
Other pre-internet era social networking enablers included Compuserve with e-mails and discussion forums and AOL’s member-created communities. The experience was pretty poor but overall the idea of socializing using computers was off and running.
Once the internet came into being, the first social networking breakthrough came with classmates.com which endeavored to connect people to their batch mates from school or college. This was followed by sixdegrees.com which believed in socializing through the web of contacts. This worked on, and was named after, the concept of six degrees of separation. However, the network closed down when it didn’t meet with much success. Similar communities sprung up, some surviving to this date while others faded away.
In 2002, social networking began to transform into what we’re more familiar with today. Friendster was launched and became immensely successful. In 2003, a professional version of the same began with LinkedIn. The giants of the industry, Facebook and Twitter, were launched in 2006 and 2011 respectively, changing the lives of internet addicts forever.
The new rage, however, are interest-based social networking websites. Hooking up users on the basis of shared interests such as photography, gardening, biking, reading, traveling, dancing, fitness and so on, these websites let people bond over things they love. Some popular examples are
- Pinterest – resembles a pinboard and allows users to share and maintain theme-based collections of images. It was the fastest website ever to cross the 10 million unique visitor mark in 2012. Users connect based on what things interest them.
- Instagram – a free photo-sharing social network that allows users to click photographs, apply digital filters and upload and share them. The website has a total of more than one billion uploads since it started. 100 million registered users exist currently.
- Thumb – a mobile app that lets users to share opinions instantly. The engagement on this community is almost instantaneous. The app is ahead of Pinterest and Tumblr in terms of average usage.
- Foodspotting – a community that is created for those who wish to bond over food. Breaking away from the stereotype restaurant reviews, Foodspotting allows people to rate specific dishes of restaurants and tell other users where to find it. Integrating Instagram, it lets people upload visual representations of dishes, keeping with the current popularity of visual engagement.
- Fitocracy – encourages fitness freaks to challenge other online users to enjoyable competitions, promoting ‘social fitness’.
- Soundcloud – allows collaboration, promotion and distribution of audio recordings.
So why are interest-based social networking websites catching on all of a sudden? What makes them different from the other related sites that already exist? For starters, Facebook and its competitors strive to improve connectivity using the existing social graph as a base. For instance, when C signs up on Facebook, he starts by adding people he already knows. His friends then introduce him to their friends or he adds new contacts based on people he meets subsequently (online or offline). On the other hand, when C signs up on Pinterest or Instagram, he can connect with complete strangers based on what he likes/dislikes. It lets him reach out to new contacts in ways that promise high engagement levels.
Interest-based social networking websites will also help create and communicate a solid sense of personal identity in a way that Facebook can’t. He could be a concert pianist who loves reading books on philosophy and enjoys long treks and photography. A website such as Pinterest or Soundcloud (for the music) is more likely to emphasize and bring out these aspects of his personality than Facebook.
At the end of the day, what these websites do is approach the entire social interaction aspect from a different angle. This means that they don’t necessarily compete with the established biggies (aka the trinity of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn). It just means that they bring a whole new flavor to the age-old need to make friends.