When I read yesterday that the Wall Street Journal is creating a new “LinkedIn Killer” yesterday, I immediately thought about how likely it is that the company botches things up. When was the last time that you’ve visited a content site and were prompted to enter your contact information in order to “connect with the community” and then proceeded to fill out all your information? In theory it makes a lot of sense but no media company that I know of has gotten it right yet.
The Value In Segmenting Your Reader Base
Fred Wilson recently said to monetize the audience and not the content. He hit the nail on the head and that’s exactly what creating communities within your site enables. Media companies are beginning to understand the importance of communities but they are still far away from mastering the concept. In an attempt to rapidly generate value out of building full-featured social networks, the companies typically shoot themselves in the foot.
Why on earth do I want to go through the process of creating an entire profile on another site? Features like groups, events, and other core components are all great features but many of them are unnecessary. Facebook has already thoroughly developed these products and while your company may be able to pay for a custom social network, it doesn’t mean it’s necessary to add all the bells and whistles.
By making basic communities within media properties, the media companies are granted access to user information and can instantly determine the demographics of their readers. That information is exactly what large brands are looking for when buying advertisements which means more money in the media company’s pockets. However you don’t want to overbuild features within a community because you can quickly scare off the vast majority of users.
The Core Features Of “Sub-Communities”
Rather than recreating an entire social platform (as the Wall Street Journal is attempting to do), it makes much more sense to create sub-communities within a site. Imagine the power of viewing who enjoyed an article that you read on the Wall Street Journal or another media site. It’s a great way to find people who have similar interests and to share information with those people.
Twitter and Facebook already provide us with this functionality among people that we follow (Twitter) or people that we have real-world relationships with (Facebook). How do you find someone that’s interested in that article you just read at the Wall Street Journal if you aren’t connected to them though? You can search Facebook or Twitter but that requires two steps: finding the article and then searching for people that shared it.
The Wall Street Journal could easily integrate a feature which lets you see who read the article. By simply implementing Facebook Connect (which is unlikely since they’re now owned by News Corp who owns MySpace), the company could focus on developing the core features rather than forcing people to register for a new community from scratch. If you run or work for a large media company and decide that it’s better to build a community from scratch, you are digging your own grave.
So if you shouldn’t build a community from scratch, what should you build? I would argue that Facebook Pages has many of the core features that you are looking for although a few are still missing. Here are the core features:
- Segmented member directory – This is an important feature still missing from Facebook Pages. Being able to browse through members of a directory based on a variety of factors is important. Each community has its own types of members. The Wall Street Journal for example has a large number of investment bankers, brokers, entrepreneurs, politicians, educators, and other groups reading their site. Each community and each member within that community has its own unique characteristics.
A community about luxury cars has a different set of readers than an interior decorating community. As such, it’s important to segment members of the community to help people find each other. That means there should be a search function within the directory, however thanks to Facebook Connect (and other technologies), getting much of the profile information is quick and easy.
- Basic profiles – I am not going to fill out an entire profile again. Simplify the profiles within sub communities because there’s no reason to fill out your entire work history again: Facebook and LinkedIn both have it. Define a user based on pre-defined categories and the content that they’re reading on your site. Large media companies create and distribute content, they don’t build social platforms. Also make it so that profiles look complete with minimal content. How many sites have you visited where users’ profiles are empty? Let users link to their profiles on other sites rather than have them fill out all their information again.
- Ability to share/like articles – This is the most important component for communities on media destination sites. As I mentioned in the last section, define the users based on the content that they’re sharing or liking from your site. You can then create a feed of that content and it gives an accurate picture of that user through the lens of your media company. I want to read what other Wall Street Journal readers are reading, not who recommended them.
- Connections – It’s important to let people connect with each other on external sites but that doesn’t mean they need to be “friends”. There’s a good chance that if I find someone who enjoys reading the same content as I do, I just want to follow them or have some other form of basic connection. Let people connect quickly an move on.
That’s it! There are other features that can be useful such as groups and events but rather than building those features from the beginning, let your readers do what they do best: read and share content. The next time your company starts to consider building an entire social network to connect users, think twice. It’s much easier to build simple “sub-communities” as extensions of their experience on other large social platforms like Facebook rather than rebuild the experience from scratch.
Do you see any reason for building out a full featured social network elsewhere on the web?