The Uniqueness of Social Networking

The remarkable success of social networking has attracted a great deal of attention in our industry. But why has social networking been so uniquely
successful? A recent study conducted by Illuminas traces its popularity to its ability to replicate group behaviour.

The qualitative study amongst regular users of networking sites aged 15 – 55 uncovered a variety of ways in which social networking amplifies and extends our need and capacity, not just for social behaviour in general, but very specifically for group behaviour. Web 2.0 translates into an on online medium a range of social interactions that until now have been confined to small group situations: 

  • Functions such as ‘pokes’ and ‘status updates’ permit a range of verbal and non-verbal emotional signaling similar to that which occurs in small, physically
    close groups.
  • Social networks facilitate the fluid movement between a range of communication units – from one-to-one to one-to-many – with a range of third party audiences – from none to many. Again, this has hitherto only really been possible in face-to-face groups. 
  • Motivations for social networking participation are very similar to those which take place in small groups and gangs such as, belonging, emotional support, exchange, recognition and expression.

We identified a number of distinct user types, including:

  • ‘Broadcasters’ – who are concerned mainly to tell their story to others in a one-way, network-wide communication.
  • ‘Mature focused’ – for whom social networking is being used on the Web 1.0 model – i.e. as a tool for a single, specific purpose such as dating.
  • ‘Happy Eventers’ – whose usage is driven primarily by the need to share photos of a specific event like a wedding or of children. A sort of modern spin on the family circular letter.

The segment that appears to be central to the success of social networking is the ‘Atomised’. These urban, twenty-somethings make full use of the group behaviour functions on networking sites to resist the fragmentation of circles of friends from their school and university days as they make the transition to work.

The Atomised segment: this core market for social networking sites seeks to maintain the cohesion of groups of friends from school and university as the transition to work drives them apart.

The fact that social networking sites have been so successful in serving and extending a basic human need (for group interaction) means that these sites, or their successors, are likely to be here to stay. The unique nature of the sites – building on existing social networks and encouraging a high level of selfexpression – presents marketers and researchers with a unique challenge if they are to exploit the commercial value of the medium.