The analysts at Gartner are telling retailers that they need to wake up to the possibilities and potential of internet-based social networking and the huge number of not-just-spotty-kids-any-more-you-know real consumers behind this phenomenon.
So without further ado, here’s my take on Gartner’s top ten things retailers need to know about social networks:
10. Web 2.0
There is a distinction between social sites and social platforms, and the possibilities of the latter, with its widgets and applets, are practically infinite.
The big bang of social networking has left a myriad of sites out there. But the pull of gravity from the larger sites like Facebook and MySpace is attracting and concentrating the population.
8. Word-of-mouth discussions
Hey, folks like to talk about retailers and products, passing on word about their good experiences, and warnings about the bad. As with review and price-comparison sites, social network sites provide an online conduit for such expression.
7. Word-of-mouth relationships
Social network sites go one step further, by actually formalising or describing the relationships between the folks talking about retailers and products. Who are your friends? Who are your colleagues? The social network sites know.
Social networking gives vitamins to the concept of viral propogation. Although really viral is just a new term for word-of-mouth (viral marketing is dead, tell all your friends), so I think Gartner is repeating themselves here.
Applications for social network sites are relatively easy to build. Gartner suggests there are opportunities in retail areas such as customer service, product selection guides and feedback mechanisms.
4. Consumer Data
Social networks have lots of personal data about lots of people, and those people are all potential shoppers and consumers. Privacy issues will come up, but people are often willing to trade off privacy if they get something of perceived value in return.
Social networks can tolerate or even profit from retailer presence, but there is such a thing as overkill. Too much interaction can elicit rejection. A social network swamped in advertising will be deserted and left to die.
2. No Shopping
Social networks are not a suitable platform for actual commerce. Yet. Gartner advises retailers against becoming an early adopter (aka guinea pig).
Social networks are even now moving onto mobile platforms (eg your mobile phone) and therefore into the real-time world. And wouldn’t retailers like to be there with them.
The full Gartner report is available here.