Social Networks Need To Provide Value Beyond Connecting

Everyone wants to start their own social network these days. And it makes sense that brands and companies want to jump on the social networking bandwagon. According to the recent Consumer Internet Barometer, one out of every four people online visits a social networking website.

But the competition for people's attention is increasing rapidly. People only have time to participate in a certain number of sites. My guess is the average social network user may be involved with one to three sites. Chances are that their main involvement will be on Facebook or MySpace and then they MIGHT spend some time on a niche site that caters more to something they're very passionate about. They use the Facebook/MySpaces to connect with people and keep in touch and the niche sites to read about breaking news and share opinions, and participate in more in-depth conversations.

So everyone's thinking they need to start a social network and get rich. But there's already enough places for people to "connect" and share their profile, pictures, videos, etc. How are you going to stand out from the other sites? Even in sports, there are a good number of websites with social networking features--at least in the general sports space. Just offering the ability to connect isn't good enough anymore, in my humble opinion.

If you're starting a social network, you should be thinking about things like:

  • Can this site help solve a problem for people who join?
  • How am I going to differentiate this from the others out there?
  • How am I going to attract users?
  • How am I going to reward users for participating?
  • How am I going to make money off this-besides banner advertising?

If you can't answer these questions, you still may have a social network. But I don't think you have a good business model.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Is providing the opportunity to "connect" still enough of a benefit to get people to join and keep coming back?