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The Power of Three in Social Networking

The number three is incredibly significant, showing up time and again in our mythologies, our fables, our stories, and our lives. Three is the smallest number of elements required to make a pattern. Mind, body, and spirit represent our human existence. Even most jokes go by the so-called rule of three- setup, anticipation and then the punchline.

Examining all of the important correlations of the number three is beyond the scope if this article (doing so would probably take hundreds of pages), so let’s switch gears and focus on why the number three matters to us, right now. It is sometimes like a Rubik’s cube to figure out what people want in a social network.

Does a link to the number three exist in one of the hottest topics in the modern world: social media? There are plenty of social networks out there – far more than three – but among all of them there’s an obvious trend. Whether talking about Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram, or dozens of the others, they’ve all evolved along one of three lines:

  •  Social interaction – Focusing on keeping in touch with family and friends by text, images or video. Or, consuming media as a diversion or form of entertainment
  • Business and News – Mainly for professional networking, development and learning
  • Recreation – Great for killing time or by providing a fun outlet to compete or be social

Obviously, some social networks overlap between several of these three realms, and some networks serve a different purpose for different people. Still, the point remains the same, there is far more overlap between the first two realms, often leaving the third point – recreation – out of balance. In fact, most of the “fun” that people have from social media comes from the first point – chatting, posting, gossiping, watching, and consuming information.

This observation led to the question, how will this change in the future?  If we look to model real life behavior, which is a long-standing practice in social media, then people will want social interaction in real life situations. People sit down together and chat, argue or discuss. When people want to network or learn about current events, they attend a conference or turn on a news broadcast.

And when people want recreation, a very large portion of them participate in or watch sports. 

For these people, playing the game or attending sporting events is a thoroughly engrossing part of their lives. They wear team colors when they go to the store, they sit down to eat at sports bars, and they listen to play-by-plays while they’re driving home from work. For them, sports are more than a diversion – it makes up a significant part of their lifestyle and who they are. “I am a huge football fan or I am a soccer player.” People tend to self-identify with a sport or a few sports.

This is why the internet is long overdue for a social network that’s tied directly to a specific sport.

Let’s go with a specific example: soccer (football if you’re outside of the US). It’s a sport with billions of passionate fans. Not only do they watch the games in person and on TV, but they play in local leagues and practice at playgrounds or open fields. Many coaches and parents teach children how to compete in the game in hopes of raising the next World Cup star. Maybe, they want to just develop a soccer player/fan for life.

When these raving fans of the sport want to discuss the afternoon’s match, brag about their recent pick-up game or discuss a roster change, do they pick up their phone and start a conference call? Probably not. It’s more likely that these folks will bring their enthusiasm to social media, a proposition that currently works… but could work a lot better.

Think about it. Social networks like Facebook are wildly popular with certain age demographics. What sports fan wants to swim through pages and pages of cat photos, ads, videos and political rants just to talk about the game? And what about two of the fastest-growing social networks of 2016, Pinterest and Instagram? Well, unless you were at the game taking pictures, a sports fan probably won’t be able to strike up a discussion since they’re not really made for that. Tap a photo or video to like the result of a game or find a cool infographic about your sport. The experience is limited.

Now, what if these fans had a dedicated, purpose-built social networking option that’s all about their favorite sport? This changes the situation considerably. Such a network would be instantly more engaging, more compelling, and more sought after by fans. It would be a place for like-minded people, which is where social media often fails by mixing every user together into a big, unfiltered soup. It is “the everything for everyone” model.

Technology is always changing at lightning speed. Whenever something “doesn’t have to be this way,” it usually isn’t for very long. It is only a matter of time before a solution like this arrives and sports fans around the world will flock to enjoy it.

Everyone can leverage the power of three if they try. A three-legged stool can work, but only if the legs are all exactly the same. It’s about finding balance, which often means finding the “short leg”, identifying how it’s lacking, and then providing a solution.

Albert Einstein laid out three rules to define his work process:

  1. Out of clutter, find simplicity.
  2. From discord, find harmony.
  3. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

It’s probably safe to say that Einstein’s rules can apply to most of our lives. We all face some form of clutter and disorganization. We all certainly face difficulty from time to time. Coming out the better for it is a matter of finding the silver lining in the cloud. When it comes to business and new ideas, these “problems” are actually the best source of brilliance. How many successful ideas came about from someone saying, “everything is fine just the way it is”, after all? Problems create innovation.

While the lack of a dedicated social network for sports fans isn’t really a problem in the grand scheme of things, it’s surely an opportunity. It’s a chance to connect the triangle of social, business and recreation. The result will be more meaningful and fulfilling relationship between people and modern day communication. In short, it’s time to connect the game.

About the Author

David Garside is a Chicago native working on a startup company calledSportsFyle. Sport Specific Social Networks has the potential to be the next big thing in Social Media, and David, as a contributing author to The Branded Community, has written articles that identify the opportunities in the Social Media ecosystem.



business-and-brands 2

You’re already familiar with brands, whether you know it or not. As a denizen of the Information Age, you’re bombarded by them every day, and there’s little chance of avoiding them. (Even if you’re hiding in a shack in the mountains, you’re still on the internet, so you’re not exempt!) We are exposed to thousands of advertisements daily.

A brand is a combination of names, terms, symbols, and design aspects that are used to identify a company, product, or service. The term brand identity is very apt, as a company’s brand is like their face, handshake, and bio all rolled into a singular set of images and text. And the purpose of brand fits right into that metaphor; a company uses branding to become the consumer’s “friend.” The business or product’s goal is to be easily recognized, understood, and related to by their target market.

This is why branding is far more complex than just business cards and letterheads. Brands are a way for something “lifeless” like an organization or product to take on a personality. Brands have values and ideals, likes and dislikes. Those qualities are generally what the public identify with brand – and that association can be very rewarding for the company that pulls it off. Just look at what Steve Jobs did for Apple by rebranding their image (hint: he pulled them off the brink of going belly-up) and you’ll see the limitless power of brand identity.

Along with Apple, companies like Amazon.com and Coca-Cola boast immediate brand recognition. Companies such as these have spent millions of dollars creating and developing their brand identities, and their immense success shows the fruits of that labor. Brands help a company to stand out for their unique qualities, and this gives them an advantage.

Even individuals have begun to see the benefits of branding. In many industries, simple resumes have given way to branded websites with value statements and character. Talented people are marketing themselves as a brand, not just a person, and they’re leveraging it to great advantage. Brands have followings – often very loyal followings – and they generally make their thoughts and beliefs fairly public. There are even paid gurus that will help people build their personal brand in hopes of standing out from the crowd and securing more fans or a better job.

And what about individuals who aren’t out to sell themselves? By and large, the average consumer is every bit as involved in the branding revolution. People have a tendency to affiliate themselves with groups, organizations, clubs or other entities that share similar beliefs or values with their own. People join communities centered around a beloved product, a favorite hobby or a charity that they support – and in doing so, they become part of branded communities.

Let’s consider hockey fans as an example. The hockey community is strong, and many of the players, fans, and supporters will be involved for life. But where do such people communicate and share their love of the sport when they’re not at the rink? You’d likely find them congregating on popular social media networks like Facebook, but that’s probably going to change.

You see, social media networks are pretty unorganized. They’re built as one-size-fits-all communities that serve as many people as possible. In other words, networks like Facebook are about quantity, not quality, of social interactions and user experiences.

What happens next will be more organized, more specific, and more fulfilling for the user. We’re on the verge of a branded community movement, and it will change much of how people interact both online and in the outside world. This isn’t just speculation; branded communities which cater to a specific type of user are already on the rise.

These online branded communities can generally be found on retailer websites (think Harley Davidson) or sports franchise websites (look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ new RED Women’s Movement page) and bring together users with common interests and values. The result is a community that has more cohesion, more purpose, and greater loyalty than any Facebook group can boast.

What branded communities would you like to see and would you be more engaged in a community with shared interests?



For the first decade of my online life, I was a Johnny-come-lately in regards to the social media scene. I lived through the Myspace craze with maybe three or four total visits to the site, and I completely avoided Facebook until it became a necessary part of my business life. It’s not that I have anything against social media, it’s just that I don’t get a whole lot out of it. I’m the type of person who doesn’t want to talk unless there’s something meaningful to say or discuss.  So no idle chit-chat is tolerated – and so the very nature of most social media activity rubs me the wrong way.  Am I the only one that thinks this way?

That being said, there was a form of social networking that I’ve been avidly using since the old days of Bulletin Board Services and dial-up: forums. I’ve long been a reader of and contributor to a number of niche related forums, ranging from the community boards running on Telegard BBS to the technical threads on CadillacForums.com. The reason for this disparity between my distaste of Facebook and my appreciation of forums is no mystery. The forums that I frequent are targeted, and in some way focused towards a specific brand, idea, or task.

That’s a branded community in a nutshell, an online social network that’s centered around a common theme. From the look of things, I’m not the only person who appreciates structured, focused online discussion. Branded communities are definitely on the rise. In fact, Forrester Research included a comeback of branded communities in their list of tech predictions for 2015 – an event they referred to as “social media growing up.”

I would say that “growing up” is a fairly apt term. If you look at the nature of social networks like Facebook, it’s hard not to notice a sort of digital pre-adolescence. Feeds overflow with self-indulgence and arguments. Users share and endorse political statements that they clearly don’t understand, simply because someone they admire posted them first. In other words, it’s like an online high school.  I am far away from my high school now and would like to focus more on what is pertinent in my life today.

Those of us old enough to know (but young enough to still remember) can easily see this parallel play out. High school is where individuality begins to take form and cliques emerge as social differences manifest for the first time. These cliques often see aggression against outsiders as a priority because they haven’t yet learned that these differences aren’t a threat.

It’s usually not until these children graduate and move on to “the real world” that they start to see the true benefit of uniting on common grounds: community. There’s a level of safety and simplicity in flocking together with like-minded people, and it has nothing to do with increasing your numbers so you can bully the other groups. As adults, we know this. As adults on social media, we seem to be learning this lesson all over again.

Observe Facebook closely and it’s likely you’ll spot that old teenage mentality bursting from every seam. You’ll see millions of isolated people struggling to push their beliefs and ideas out into the world as a way of identifying themselves and seeking validation; an action to be expected from young people, but not from adults. Welcome to the “teenage angst” simulator.

Now take a look at any branded community and you’ll see a different story. You’ll see people who are united by a singular thread (which could be anything from owning a Saab to fighting Type II Diabetes). This commonality is apparent throughout the forum. There’s something to talk about, something to bond over, and that fact alone promotes a kind of civility and intelligence that’s normally absent from social media at large. Best of all, forums generally have a subtext: they exist to help people accomplish something.

My favorite Cadillac forum helped me swap the transfer box on my Cadillac SRX and saved a ton of money.  I turned to a hockey related forum when I needed to find the optimal way to bake my hockey skates to wear them in quicker. The information I received was helpful, friendly, and none of it included random tirades about the president, Donald Trump, or an opinion on something I couldn’t care less about. Try to get that sort of useful information quickly on Facebook and you’ll be in for a long night.

Therein lies the advantage of branded communities that’s contributing to its resurgence. It’s all about purpose, something that’s severely lacking in networks like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Branded communities bring people together to share in something as a group, whereas most social media is immensely self-serving and isolating. Even if you try to participate in a themed group in Facebook, you can be sure that dozens of irrelevant spam posts will come along for the ride, as well as plenty of posts from people who just want to argue. Going back to my previous analogy, it’s like the difference between an art class in high school and painting class at an actual art school; the former is usually packed with students who want an easy grade, screw around, and disrupt the class. The latter is going to attract people who are serious about the subject.

Businesses are noticing this, and it’s expected that large organizations and corporations are going to play a major part in bringing back the branded community. While social media is still wonderful for marketing purposes – especially since networks like Facebook allow for some pretty targeted advertising – they’re not the best place to find a captive, focused audience.

This is exactly why companies like Sephora have created their own social networks. Sephora’s community, Beauty Talk, is built right into the retailer’s website, and it provides a focused, organized, and moderated place for like-minded people to congregate. Not only does it give these customers and potential customers a safe environment to discuss a topic they care about, it gives Sephora exclusive access to a nice little segment of qualified consumers. Without a doubt, branded communities are a win/win for both businesses and individuals.

Does the current social networking webosphere offer an opportunity for a new brand of online communities?  I think so…more to come in my next writing.

About the author Eric Hays: Based in Chicago, Eric Hays is a technology entrepreneur currently focused on building branded niche communities in Sports via SportsFYLE, LLC. They have a current test community launched at the time this article was written found at: http://www.HockeyFYLE.com



 

The advantages of starting up a branded community are fairly apparent at this point. Your business can benefit from increased loyalty, more satisfied and engaged customers, and a place to direct targeted marketing efforts.

That’s wonderful, but how do you create a branded community that works? The following examples come from very successful branded communities, and they serve to illustrate a few best practices:

  • Don’t promote a product – promote a lifestyle (Harley Owner’s Group)
  • Take a look at any group of Harley Davidson riders and you’ll see why selling a lifestyle can be very lucrative. Not only does it create and proliferate excitement for your product, but it can really crank up the ancillary sales. Harley isn’t just a motorcycle company any more; they’re licensing everything from socks to pickup trucks.
  • Ask for input – and use it! (My Starbucks Idea)
  • Hundreds of great ideas have come out of Starbucks Coffee’s branded community. Almost 200,000 members have given insight about the customer experience and suggested all sorts of great improvements. Guess what? Starbucks listens to them, and around 300 of these ideas have been implemented to great effect in their stores.
  • Expand beyond the product and focus on the customer (Being Girl)
  • Being Girl is Proctor & Gamble’s branded community for young women. Sure, they could stick to product-relevant topics like shampoo and deodorant, but what teenage girl wants to read about that all day? Instead, the forum covers topics that their demographic will gladly talk about for hours (such as dating and eating disorders.) This extremely popular community has been going strong for over fifteen years…making it older than many of the users who frequent it!
  • Give Year-Round Access to a Seasonal Brand (H&R Community)
  • Tax time comes but once a year for many people, which makes tax preparation a very seasonal business. H&R Block fought back against their waning and waxing consumer relevance by creating a branded community where users can go to discuss tax issues or experiences throughout the year. The result? The company reaped a 15% increase in business.

About the author Eric Hays: Based in Chicago, Eric Hays is a technology entrepreneur currently focused on building branded niche communities in Sports via SportsFYLE, LLC. They have a current test community launched at the time this article was written found at: http://www.HockeyFYLE.com