Monday, August 20, 2012

One Too Many

A little over three years ago, I wrote a blog posting that I called How Many Social Networks Do You Need? My motivation was that San Francisco Symphony had set up its very own social network, and I was, to say the least, skeptical:
I'm just not sure what use single-organization social networking sites are. In the arts world, I can see organizing around a high-passion art form like opera more readily than around a particular opera company or symphony orchestra. (See parterre box, for example, with its heady mix of technical discussion, diva-worship, and lurid gossip.) 
Does SFS think that hundreds or thousands of its audience members have the time and energy to post in its forums and consume the content on the site? Will the social-networking site increase ticket sales? Does it make more sense to just have a major presence on Facebook or MySpace? Do organizations have any idea how much moderation is likely to be necessary to keep discussions focussed and nonlibelous? What breadth of commentary will be allowed? Has anyone bothered to look at the comments at the NY Times web site? They vary from smart at Paul Krugman's blog to compassionate and experience-based at The New Old Age blog to ghastly in other political commentary or whenever the words autism and vaccination appear. 
I rather think that what we're seeing is the second wave of the web, and it will shake out just like the Web 1.0 flurry of community sites did. Some social networking sites with take off and thrive; most will collapse or be abandoned or semi-abandoned. Organizations will invest tons of money but won't necessarily see a lot of return. For one thing, they're a little late to the party, and many heavy web users are already overloaded. I can't keep up with reading all the worthwhile classical music blogs; I haven't touched Twitter; and I certainly haven't got time to read social networking sites for every arts organization I care about.
Well, today I'm claiming a big "I told you so." I was writing up some thoughts on social networks and marketing for a friend the other day, and wondered what was going on with the SFS social network. I took a look, couldn't find it, and emailed SFS. Today I heard back: they shut down the network back in June, to focus their social networking efforts on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

I can't say I'm surprised. I looked in on the network from time to time over the last few years, and I think its membership never got above 3,000. That's not many more people than can fit into Davies Symphony Hall, which seats around 2,200 2,739. It's not really a network; it's more of an echo chamber with a limited number of people talking to each other. Because it's stand-alone, it's difficult to get new people into it, as opposed to persuading some of the 750 million people on Facebook to hit Like or subscribe to your Facebook page. The official SFS page on FB has 19,000 or so likes, a nice multiple of the number of members at the social network. I tell you, I'm curious about the amount of money and staff time that went into setting up and maintaing the network. It can't have been trivial.

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