What if a Social Network Fails?

When marketers discuss risks in adopting social channels, the conversation typically centers on content-related issues. What if someone says bad things about us? What if they post something illegal or offensive? How do we make ourselves look good without being called for “astroturfing”?

There’s no question that these are critical points to raise. They are easy to think about because the cause and response are generally within a brand’s control. But there’s another group of potential weaknesses that are often overlooked because they reside in a 3rd party: the social network, itself.

I was reminded of this while reading coverage of the News Corporation earnings call from last week. Myspace’s poor performance was discussed at some length and the COO offered a grim prognosis that caught people’s attention:

Revenue at Myspace was down $70 million compared to the same quarter a year ago, the company said, and “traffic numbers are still not going in the right direction, Carey said. Which means that its “current losses are not acceptable or sustainable.”

Carey: “We judge in quarters, not in years.”

The online world, being somewhat hysterical, spun this as “OMG, Myspace is DEAD.” Which is not the case, but it did lead me to reflect on risk exposure in a social network failure. Specifically:

  • How safe is your investment in marketing campaigns on a given network?
  • Can your strategy recover from losing a network?

Let’s take an extreme example that involves Myspace. Many bands – both small and large – use Myspace as their primary digital presence. They’ve invested lots of time and effort in customizing the design, posting content and uploading songs. They’ve configured their domains to redirect straight to their MySpace pages.

If News Corp. decided to shut down Myspace with a timeline measured in quarters, these bands could have as little as three months to completely recreate their digital strategy. They will need to identify a new platform and then make another investment in building it out. Meanwhile, they forfeit search rankings and the ability to interact with everyone who became a “friend”.

And it’s not just bands on Myspace that are at risk. Consider the current fad of agencies replacing their corporate websites with social network pages.

Even barring something as dramatic as being shut down, there are many ways that a social network could fail. Technical glitches can cause unpredictable outages. Legislation can be introduced that limits corporate activities or restricts access. User bases can abandon over a corporate faux pas or when the Next Big Thing comes along. Oh, by the way… how’s the network’s security?

This is not meant to paint a horrible picture of doom and gloom. It just implies that common-sense risk mitigation strategies need to be part of the marketing plan:

  • Focus on short-term campaigns with limited investment in non-portable development work.
  • Craft redundant strategies across multiple networks.
  • Mine and archive fan and posting data so that you have it “for later”. Ideally, it would be merged with existing CRM databases.
  • Always maintain an independent corporate website as your definitive online identity. Facilitate critical interactions here, such as support forums and FAQs.

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Pointroll IT
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