–Dan Kelly, Attorney

Four weeks ago, I blogged about FaceBook’s ill-advised move to allow unique username URLs.  Some time between then and now, FaceBook removed the page where trademark owners could defensively register their marks to prevent others from choosing such marks as user names.  Now, a rights holder’s only recourse is to submit this form to report an infringing user name.

In the course of my research of FaceBook, I have found that actually using FaceBook for affirmatively useful business purposes, such as setting up a business account or creating an ad, can be a mind-numbingly difficult task.  FaceBook’s shortcomings, I think, are neatly addressed in this frustrated FaceBook user’s help question:  “does anyone know how to actually get help from facebook help?

Two weeks ago, I read news reports of MySpace’s woes.  (And by the way, has anyone ever remarked on the similarities of the MySpace and FaceBook landing pages?)  This week, I finally gave in and actually tried to follow some feeds on Twitter, much to my frustration–it is ridiculously clunky.

So, much as this may paint me as a new “new media” luddite, I must ask:  What is the fascination with these so-called “social networking” web sites?  As far as I can tell, they are clunky, inefficient, inhospitable time-wasters.  Unless these sites become savvy (and quickly) to some simple principles of usability and customer service, I doubt that any one of them will really become viable and succeed over the long haul.  As illustrated by the likes of Amazon.com, Google, Craigslist, Drudge Report, and others, there are many, many ways to succeed on the Internet, but social networking may not be one of them.

  • Social media networks are only useful if you intend to use them‚Ķand I mean put effort into it. Just signing up for a business account and creating an ad isn‚Äôt really going to get you anywhere‚Äîbecause that‚Äôs not how people use them (though, like everything else, there are always exceptions). If you intend to use it as a business or entity, let‚Äôs say, like a blog (DuetsBlog?), social networking sites are a way to display expertise, maintain or start new relationships, and continue to strengthen your brand. People using social networking sites want to know what/who you‚Äôre interested in, your perspectives, and know you or your entity on a personal level, i.e., build a solid, personal relationship. They don‚Äôt really care about your ad that‚Äôs off to the side because it doesn‚Äôt give you the information that a group or fan page would (Facebook). Interaction, transparency and personality are the keys in this consumer-driven society‚Ķand why shouldn‚Äôt it be like that? As a consumer, I want to know who you are before I purchase services/products from you, and if I have a problem or kudos, I‚Äôd like to let you know. That‚Äôs the beauty (and sometimes drawback) of social networking sites.
    As for “clunkiness” and usability—you get what you pay for…which isn’t anything. I use Twitter, and I put it to good use. I have the application on my phone and get news up-to-the-second. Consumers don’t have time to read full articles anymore to get the gist (because we know journalism has gone from the inverted-pyramid-style to adjectives and personal opinions in every other sentence…). I would rather scan through the headlines and select what I want to read. Social networks aren’t perfect, that comes with time (okay, okay, nothing’s perfect), and as I mentioned, people aren’t paying to use them. There are going to be usability issues, and I’m sure we all have suggestions we’d like to give them (which applies to just about anything). As they’re around longer, they’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t. Also, not all social networking sites are “good,” for example, I wouldn’t suggest using MySpace for a business nature, but most have their place.
    I hate to say it (lie), Dan, but social networks will only morph into something bigger—not curl up and die. They’re not going to go away because who doesn’t want to control their environment or what they read? Many, many, many people and entities have used social networks (and I’m not necessarily talking ones who buy ads) to boost their brand, relationships, and ultimately sales. Hey, I bet no one thought blogs were going anywhere…

  • Laura,
    That is a fair rebuttal, and I suppose in the interest of full disclosure, I should add that I do use LinkedIn. In my experience, LinkedIn does not have many of the shortcomings of FaceBook, MySpace, and Twitter, but I will be the first to admit that there may be an element of personal bias on my part based upon familiarity. (And, to be fair, each of these sites have slightly different capabilities and intended users.)
    While it is impressive that these sites have come as far as they have, particularly given that some of them were birthed in colleged dorm rooms and the like, I still wonder whether these particular sites will turn the corner and have staying power, or whether these sites will go the way of leg warmers and parachute pants. The news about MySpace suggests that they heyday of amateurish social networking sites may be at an end, and FaceBook’s user-unfriendliness leads me to think that it may not be far behind MySpace.

  • I agree with your sentiments, Dan. MySpace or Facebook, as brands, may not have staying power, but the concept of social networks has power and that’s what will keep them around. What’s unfathomable to me is how they’ll present themselves in the future…what’s next? Stream-of-consciousness news feeds that tap into your brain and read your thoughts? Who knows…I guess it’s up to the new generation of extremely tech-savvy high-schoolers. Or elementary kids. (With every generation, it seems, the ‚Äúgeniuses‚Äù are younger.)
    And as a sidenote, trends always have a way of coming back. Examples: blue eyeshadow, ‘80s-style clothing, Michael Jackson’s career…

  • Your comment about Facebook was on point. As a side note, I’m not a big fan of Facebook for business, but the fact that they make it ridiculously hard to set up and maintain business pages (and separate personal profiles from business ones) doesn’t help their cause.
    On first person marketing through the internet, it works for some and not for others. There’s no one size fits all approach. I don’t see it as necessary to start doing it right away, particularly since the channels constantly change. You don’t lost anything from a timing standpoint by taking your time. You could have started a blog six months ago (take this blog for example) and it’s not as if you are behind the curve. The same goes for Twitter/Facebook (etc.). There’s a certain amount of experience that you gain from going through the process, but people generally overvalue this.
    I often wonder what the result would be if I took the time I’ve spent on Twitter/blogs etc and wrote an article or did a bit more focused marketing. Again, tough to say.
    On a loosely related note, I enjoy this blog and the personal/informal touch!
    Mostly I participate because it’s fun and I almost seem to blow off steam doing it.

  • One thing to always keep in mind is that we are probably only about 10% of the way into the Social Network (r)evolution. These early players (MySpace, Facebook, Twitter) are the successful examples of today, but these tools are just setting up habits and exploring the new technologies for an entirely new generation (and consumers). They may survive if they get innovative (and define a value), but they will likely be replaced.
    Think about 1950’s TV ads. With a spokesperson candidly commenting live with the sponsor’s product in hand, no one could have imagined the mini-movie spectacles that would rule the Super Bowl. But someone probably did. It just took 30 years to make it a reality.
    Interestingly, LinkedIn had a really slow uptake for many years until some other social networks came online. Then it hit a critical mass and people recognized it’s value. Now, it’s a vibrant cluster of communities.

  • Ginger Hope

    I agree about the clunkiness, but the concept is here to stay. I think the question is whether the current giants fix their interface problems or some truly intuitive, apple-esque upstart steals their users.
    Speaking of interface issues, how come my comment on this blog doesn’t allow me to preview whether my email address will be visible to the whole world, although it’s required in order to post? :-)