If I had a dollar for every time I heard an organization talk about wanting to create their own social network I could buy a couple shares of Google. While you may be looking at my.barackobama.com and thinking “hmm, we could build our own social network like that,” guess what? You can’t.
At Netroots Nation, Matt Browner Hamlin put it this way: if the best-funded Presidential campaign in the history of the world has a hard time creating its own social network and making it work properly, you probably can’t do it. Honestly, you shouldn’t even want to.
Here is Tony Cani’s metaphor: if you found out that young people like to hang out in coffee shops, you aren’t going to build your own coffee shop. You are going to go to the ones that people already hang out in.
Your time, energy, and money are much better spent actually reaching out to people on the social networks they already use instead of trying to create your own, encourage people to use it, and then be responsible for not only outreach but running a social network itself. But let’s be honest here, the people aren’t going to go to your social network anyway.
At the Arizona Democratic Party, we had the BlueStateDigital social networking component that both the DNC and the Obama campaign use. Tony Cani was the first person to try to get it to take off, I was the second. No matter how much I tried to get our supporters on to our social network to use those tools, it just wouldn’t happen. I would have to go to Facebook and MySpace instead.
Here is one of the big problems. People are getting to the point where they have account overload. People only have a finite amount of attention to give their social networking profiles. If you spent the time required to be active on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Friendster, Windows Live, Yahoo360, Livejournal, MyBO, DNC Partybuilder, as well as networks for other things it would be more than a full-time job. That is why campaigns pay people to run these profiles for them. Users are going to remain on the social networks that give them the most value, which normally means the social network most of their contacts are active on. A social network without users has no value, and that is exactly what you are thinking about building.
So instead of trying to start your own social network, think about the demographic of people you are trying to reach out to and establish yourself on the networks they frequent, whether it’s college students on Facebook, young latino(a)s on MySpace, etc.
Still think it is worthwhile to create your own social network? Tell me why I’m wrong in the comments.