What would happen to Social Networks if their products disappeared?

by TheSourceress on 21/03/2013

Empty Office - Where Did Everybody Go?

When I got my first job with a recruitment company I remember it being pointed out that our business was a lot harder than many others because we were selling a product that had emotions, a mind of its own and could get up and walk away at the drop of a hat.

Just like social networks, recruiters provide a service to one community for free in order to sell it to someone else.

I see a lot of people complaining when a social network makes (or doesn’t make) changes. Then other people telling them how silly they are for complaining because they are getting the service for free. The attitude is that Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. can impose whatever they like on their users because those users are not paying for a service.

If recruiters treat candidates like they don’t matter then those candidates usually find another way to get a job. The candidate may not be the one paying the invoice at the end of the day, but they are the product you need in order to satisfy your client.

So, do social networks need to worry more about keeping their users happy or risk having no data or clicks to sell to their clients?

A couple of weeks ago I was offered an invite to the new freemium version of App.net.

If you’ve not heard of App.net (or ADN as the cool kids seem to call it), then simply put, it is very similar to Twitter but with no advertising – ever. Up until now, users have had to pay to have an ADN account. These new free accounts have limited functionality, I can only follow a maximum of 40 people for example. This does give me the opportunity to try out App.net and see what the atmosphere is like before committing. If I choose to stay I will need to pay at some point.

One of the first conversations I stumbled upon in the App.net global feed (anyone been around long enough to remember checking out what all Twitter users were saying by clicking “Everyone”?) was an outburst of rage about LinkedIn from a web developer. He was complaining that people contacted him about job opportunities without having read his profile. I checked out his LinkedIn profile and it clearly stated that he was not interested in approaches from any recruiter. He also didn’t like the user interface – he thought signing in alone was arduous.

LinkedIn have had some impressive numbers in the past year. But who are they really pleasing? Most people I speak to, outside of the recruitment industry, see LinkedIn as a necessary evil at best. Those with the most sought after skills are sick to the back teeth of clumsy approaches from Recruiters – or just too many approaches. Some report stripping back the information in their profiles or deleting them completely.

Inside the recruitment industry, thoughts about LinkedIn are equal measure wonder and panic – but that’s another blog post.

Group managers are worried that charges might be just beyond the horizon, event managers have lost LinkedIn Events…

Who is LinkedIn pleasing? Its shareholders. Ultimately it is selling its users in order to achieve this and they are going to be the first people to walk away. I know people that are already trimming down their profiles to make them harder to find via their skills or deleting them all together. The users with the most hard-to-find and in-demand skills will leave long before the most desperate recruiters stop picking over LinkedIn’s carcass.

The likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google are not out of the firing line either. Many people in my network were most upset by the announcement that Google Reader would be shutting down later this year. Facebook regularly upsets its users over privacy concerns and voyeuristic creepiness – like the Like button’s ability to track you around the web. But we can’t complain – we don’t pay to use Facebook. Facebook is not the product, we the users are – sold to the highest bidder. Twitter is dipping its toes in the water of advertising with promoted tweets and trends as well as paid brand pages, perhaps the least irritating monetisation strategy so far…?

Which brings me back to App.net. They say that they are selling a service, not their users.

This might put some people off – we have all been spoiled by free social networks. Join, share the love, if things get too commercial or the audience too “mainstream” then just move on to the next new shiny free thing that hopes to make it big.

But what if we could pay a few quid and our Social Network would be what we wanted it to be – always? If the money comes from the users then keeping us happy is top priority.

If App.net attracts a significant audience and the

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buzz gets big enough then the recruiters, the marketers and the brands will follow. I am already embroiled in a rather tedious exchange with one brand trying to get me to try their product.

But… If all any user can buy is an account, brands will need to be interesting and useful in order to get any attention. No one will be able to hand over a wodge of cash and “machine-gun 100 people with InMails”.

Of course, if the brands do come, they will then form part of the user-base that App.net has to please. Users with more cash – this could take us down an old familiar road.

For now, I am there. I want to see how this one turns out. Will significant numbers of social network users ever decide that free isn’t worth it?

If you want to try App.net’s new freemium version then you will need to find someone with a paid account and ask them for an invite. If I become part of that group then I’ll let you know.

Image based on mcfarlandmo’s photo on flickr.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Social Jobs Board March 22, 2013 at 12:38 AM

“If App.net attracts a significant audience and the buzz gets big enough then the recruiters, the marketers and the brands will follow. I am already embroiled in a rather tedious exchange with one brand trying to get me to try their product.”

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.

Social Jobs Board


Stephen O'Donnell March 27, 2013 at 12:19 AM

They say if you can’t work out why a product is free for you, then you are the product.

The established strategy is to build a network, and then annoy them with your monetisation efforts as much as possible, right to the point where you start losing some people. That’s where the line is, right there. Globally traded corporations have an obligation to squeeze all but the very last ounce of goodness out of their original proposition.


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