It didn't take long for brand managers and manufacturers of all types to realize the opportunities afforded by social media. Almost as soon as each new platform appeared, corporations jumped on board, constructing MySpace sites, Facebook fan pages, Twitter accounts and more, all aimed at grabbing a bit more of a particular target market. Promotional saturation can be the kiss of death for a social media platform, turning it into a virtual mall, devoid of its original meaning to its traditional users. But little can be done to control the characteristics of a social media platform's users.
There is an upside, of course, to allowing the marketing blitzes, customer outreach and data mining activities preferred by the corporate set. That additional use -- a different use, sure, but use nonetheless -- amps up a platform's key metrics, such as new users, unique visits, page views and time spent on the site. It also opens the door to new revenue streams, from corporate and premium accounts to polling and custom reporting. In a market frequently criticized for valuing eyeballs over dollars (the same problem experienced in the late 1990s), anything that puts cash in the till becomes an instant priority.
This week, announcements from two of the top social media sites on the Web -- LinkedIn and Twitter -- suggest that the days of purity are in the past. Both are offering new tools that speak directly to the needs of corporate marketing departments.
Of the two, Twitter's latest enhancement is more the directly valuable development to corporate users. The microblogging service is working on a feature that will link individual contributors to brand presences. DailyFinance, for example, could allow its writers to tweet on behalf of the publication as "Contributors," in what will undoubtedly become part of the Twitter lexicon. So, I could tweet this story via @Daily_Finance with @tjohansmeyer (me) identified as the contributor. This would enable several Twitter users from the same company to manage the account and reach its followers without sacrificing time or having to hunt and retweet each other.
The direction LinkedIn is taking isn't as overt but could be far more important. It unveiled a new search feature -- Faceted Search -- which facilitates a user's drilling down into search results to find accounts fitting a specific profile. The eight facets are: current company, past company, location, relationship, location, industry, school and profile languages. For the average LinkedIn user, this simply makes it easier to navigate through the site's 54 million users and locate exactly the person he wants to find.
Now, think of this capability in the hands of a marketing team. It could launch a group on LinkedIn, populate it with content, and attract a highly targeted audience to join, after which it could mine the users' interactions for intelligence to use in anything from tweaking its message to direct marketing.
While social media purists may rue these developments, they could actually enhance the end-user experience for these platforms. The multiuser consolidation on Twitter could unclog the tweet-stream, at least a tad, of overtly promotional retweets, sparing brand followers unnecessary bombardment. Faceted search, if used wisely, could help create targeted communities, stemming the flow of unsolicited group and connection invitations. The odds that the next invitation you receive will be relevant to you should increase substantially. After all, the savviest marketers will only want exact fits.
Ultimately, the social media user community as a whole should applaud these seemingly "sellout" developments, as they will contribute to the longevity of the medium. Twitter has made a commitment to generating revenue in 2010, and is even thinking about making a few acquisitions (which should, in turn, lead to broader revenue opportunities). LinkedIn has suggested that an IPO is on the horizon, which means that bolstering use of the site and revenue will become even greater priorities in the months ahead.
Business viability is crucial to continued operation, making "sellout" a likely synonym for "success."