Here's what I learned from Steve Sarner, VP of Marketing at Tagged and a longtime thought leader in social space, in an interview with Mike Wolpert, host of Social Jumpstart TV about the past, present, and future social media and social discovery.
WHERE WE'VE COME FROM
Friendster was the first social network to speak of. It could have been what Facebook is today, if they'd been able to figure out how to keep the site up, but they were overwhelmed by traffic. It was a technical failure. Sarner says they had "lighting in a bottle, beyond even their wildest imaginations." After watching this happen a bunch of other players jumped on the bandwagon, especially in Silicon Valley, and there was a big explosion.
The founders of Tagged were Stanford physics PhD candidates in their twenties who had gone to Harvard. They saw MySpace happening for music and adults, and they saw another kid from Harvard named Mark starting something for college students (a little thing called Facebook). Tagged was originally going to be for high school students. After MySpace and Facebook opened up to all the age demographics in 2005/2006, Tagged opened up to everyone too and entered the race of trying to be the world's social network.
Sarner believes that Facebook earned the momentum it did in 2005/2006 because it was a beautiful, eloquently done site that was able to lead people into social networking in a clean-cut way. MySpace was too confusing for the masses, and also became overwhelmed by capacity issues. Facebook was more structured, and it had faster functionality and well-designed technical elements. These strengths have clearly continued to serve Facebook well.
LinkedIn entered the scene as the place for professional friends and professional networks. Some of the other networks, like foursquare, emerged to utilize geographic strengths.
In 2007/2008, Tagged pivoted in a new direction. They decided that most of the networks are for people you already know-Facebook for friends, MySpace for music friends, LinkedIn for professional friends, foursquare for people you know in your area. Tagged decided it would be the network for meeting new friends. They have been serving this niche since, finding new ways and developing new features to help you find brand-new friends online who you would not find by following your existing friend networks. Some people use Tagged for dating, some for social games, and some for shared interests. Tagged represent a different use case-you may have 2000 friends, and you may use different photos, choose different entertainment, and focus on different interests than you would with a network of people you already know. It's about being social and fun in a more public way.
WHY YOU NEED TO BE ON SOCIAL MEDIA RIGHT NOW
The present reality of social media is this: the social brand is more important than ever. People need to find you, so you need to be on these networks. That's a fact.
Sarner has this advice for overwhelmed business owners: Getting started is half the battle. Consistency is really important, and you have to put a little time and effort into this. What's required is sweat equity-intellect, time, and energy. But it will get easier as soon as you get started. Social media is here to stay, and it will become even more meaningful in the long term. It's not that hard, and with a little guidance and practice, you can get fabulous results.
Getting on social media is not just brutal for prospects and new sales. Social media also offers immediate feedback so you can solve problems earlier. Somebody might walk out of your store upset, and you do not know it, unless you're on social media. If you are, you can respond immediately-this is a chance to solve the problem. It's also a chance to change the conversation about your business, be a part of it, and even help write it. If you use it well, you can demonstrate that you're a great business, and get free market research out of it, which is a powerful thing.
It all starts with listening. A business owner can begin by listening to what's going on on social media before getting involved. A lot of businesses miss this boat, because they think they need to push their message out. In fact, what you need to do is step back and listen. Only jump in where you can add value; do not do it just to say "Look at me." Make a worthy contribution by fixing an issue, solving a problem, or being involved on a higher level.
Word-of-mouth is the most valuable type of marketing, but learning it and understanding how to harness the power of it is the tricky part. Social media is the place to learn.
WHERE WE'RE HEADED
Sarner sees us moving around a place where even more of the old systems, like the old broadcast model of advertising, will be falling down. He predicts another huge privacy blowup with Facebook, because of the new social readers they're using that broadcast what users are reading and looking at. There will definitely be more bumps along the road.
Sarner also thinks that making new strides in social media will get harder before it gets easier. Right now, if you're a business looking for customers, you have to be on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. But beyond that, it's hard to know where else to go in order to use social media in the most effective possible. It all depends on the type and location of your business and the nature of your industry. Geographic sites or review sites might be crucial for one business and not particularly helpful for another. It will be interesting to see where Google+ is going. This is a rapidly evolving landscape with a lot of complexity, and business owners need to be on top of it and take advantage of the opportunity. They need to understand what social media offers: an amazing promotional and communication vehicle. Sarner also thinks the complexity level will continue to increase.
Here's how Tagged sees the challenge facing them: Tagged has 100 million registered users. Facebook has 800 million active users. There are 7 billion people on the planet; 2 billion are connected, and 3 billion will be connected soon. What's the best way to find the 10 best people you should meet?
Google, Microsoft, and Tagged are all working on future products. When I asked Sarner for a hint about what Tagged is working on, he started talking about shared interests. What if you could use social media to really find like-minded people with similar interests who would be valuable to know? Most of the friendships you already have are based on randomness or proximacy. Instead, you could develop friendships based on expertise, business focus, spiritual connection, or another area of shared interest. The most valuable connections are built around what you care about and what you do. There's so much noise out there, and right now, social media helps you manage it and curate it. The next step will be about cherry-picking the people you should meet.
I do not know about you, but I'm pretty excited to meet the person in Japan who loves everything I love. I can not wait.
To see the entire interview, go to our YouTube channel: http://youtu.be/4CztNvC9w8k