Social Networks : Business models and monetization

Social networks are plenty and in past few years  they have grown both horizontally from dynamic user groups to platforms and vertically from  social networks for gays and lesbians to  invitation only groups for social elites.

Social networks are  hugely succesful in India too. According to latest data from camScore indian social networks have grown 50 % in the year 2007-08. Moreover  majority of web users are now social networkers.

india-social-networks-stats

But despite this phenomenal  adaptation of SNs idea , social networks are  loosing  more money  then they make for their investors.

This post is my attempt to understand the whole social network monetisation problems and related  issues.

Social networks are used as marketing and branding  media  and make money through advertising  same way as TV, Radio, Newspaper  does. This way  advertisiding drives the form and functions of social networks. Social networks have to cater needs of two different parties, the actual  user, who want to use them as they wish to with minimum  interference  from anyone incling owners and advertiser who pay for runing the show and what users to behave in curtain way. This create a disconnect between interest of parties involved and there a contest going on between user and advertisers where social network trying to balance the  needs of both  parties.

Social network are new kind of media  in advertising industry and do not enjoy same level acceptence and trust among media buyers  as enjoyed by TV & newspapers. They are yet to prove their effectiveness and metrics used to evaluate thier effectiveness are evolving.

Other challenges involoved in monetizsing are related to very nature of social network. For exampl most of the network rely on user generated content where social network have very limited freedom to play with content. Most of the user activities are action oriented like writing on wall, poking friends, sending sms and hence  provided little space for text/display adversting model. Users are agnostic to any significant changes in social network structure and forms done to suit the  needs and requirements of advertisers. Attempts to sell/use user information to third party resulted  in backlashs and there is increasing awareness among users about privacy related issues. Many user privacy watchdogs  are seeking change in privacy policies of  social networks.

Below is more detailed  analysis of two major issues related to monetisation of  Social networks.

1. Low CPM  or Unsuitable metrics – CPM may not be the best indicator of social network analysis

Lookery, an ad network specializing in social media, offers display ads on MySpace, Facebook, and Bebo for only 13 cents per thousand times the ad is served (CPM); Yahoo’s average CPM is estimated at $13. Video ads on MySpace reportedly fetch just $25 per thousand showings; CBS charges $50 on affiliated sites, NBC as much as $75. (Source)

Next question will be  is why SN have low CPM . The reason is that most social network reply soley on advertising revenue.

Regardless of the model (CPM, CPC, CPA), advertisers value three key measures: reach, frequency, and targeting. Many social media sites certainly score high on reach and frequency, but how do they fare on targeting? Targeting is key, because it determines the CPM rates advertisers are willing to pay. And CPM rates vary very widely: from $16-20 for TripAdvisor to $0.10 for Facebook and MySpace. See, for example, this media plan. (Source)

There is another dimention to low CPM for social networks which is quite counterintutive.

The assumption is that if users are worth money, then more users are worth more money. Theoretically, an infinite number of users are worth an infinite amount of money. It’s simply not true.

There is a point of diminishing returns in Web advertising. Enormous traffic creates a glut of inventory, which inevitably drives the value of ads down. The most highly valued inventory on the Web is branded, high-quality media content. It’s valuable because the content projects value onto the advertiser. When Target advertises on MTV.com, the brand benefits from MTV’s youth-oriented content, giving the brand a youthful shine. In contrast, utility inventory lacks the compelling context that advertisers need to help build identity and image, and in many cases may include negative images. The result is that advertisers have no cause to align their brands with products like Social Networks. Unlimited inventory and negative brand association is a perfect storm for low CPMs.(Source)

Extra : Here is interesting explanations and maths that is involved in calcauting CPM

2. User behaviour

Both  social network & advertsier would like to use datamining techniews to target there advertsing to improve their CPM . But this leds to problems related to privacy fo user information . User behaviour give  different challenges to social network. On social networks, people are primarily concerned with communicating with their friends, not looking to buy items or services. Moreover when marketers try to shake things up, users don’t take kindly to major changes. There are issues related to trust and privacy of user infomation and this lack of trust is mutual.

the fundamental problem that social networks face when trying to monetize through an advertising-driven business model is the lack of trust.  To be more explicit, while brand advertisers have historically trusted people as consumers, they do not trust them in the new role of producer (e.g. uncontrollable content).  Likewise, people who are armed with the power of interactivity are also demonstrating that they are increasingly distrustful of brand advertisers (e.g. ad-skipping).(Source)

I come across few exellent presentations related  to subject. Here are two of them

In the next post I will look for solutions that are been tried to resolve problems mentions above  and will  do some analysis on  how successful are  they in generating revenue for companies. I would  also like to cover  indian  social networks are trying to resolve monetization conundrum

Extra:  Social Networking Is Not a Business* ( Technology review – registration required)

Update : There is change of priorities  in professional and career side and due lack  of time to research I am finishing this article here.

Advertisements

1 Comment »

  1. vivek440 said

    You have analyzed the issue very nicely…. Useful article !

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: