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To join or not to join. When it comes to new social sites, that is the question brands must ask themselves.

While social networks like Facebook and Twitter continue to be dominant, services like Pinterest and Instagram are attracting more and more individuals. Even Google's social network, Google+, which many were skeptical about, has managed to grow into a respectable channel with more than 100m active monthly users.

For most brands, the growth of social as a channel is a great thing, but the conundrum -- which ones should we join, and which can we ignore -- is increasingly complicated.

Here are five areas brands should look at when answering that question.

1. Functionality

Thanks to creative entrepreneurs and innovative companies, brands have an ever-growing number of ways to interact with consumers online. In some cases, it may be beneficial for a brand to experiment with a new social networking service, however nascent and unproven it may be, because it offers unique functionality that other services don't. Even if the new network doesn't take off, the discoveries could become useful and relevant as existing social sites evolve and add new functionality of their own.

2. Demographics

Not all social sites are created equal when it comes to demographics and brands considering setting up shop on a new network should take this into consideration.

According to a new Pew study, Instagram, for instance, reaches a higher number of high-earners. Despite the fact that Instagram, while growing rapidly, isn't the largest social network in the world, its demographic makeup makes it an attractive place for luxury brands, and it's not entirely surprising that many of the companies putting the mobile photo-based social net to the greatest use and attracting the most followers are indeed luxury brands.

3. ROI

Social may be a challenging channel for brands to determine ROI in, but ROI isn't a completely unknown quantity.

For retailers considering their social investments, for instance, there's a decent amount of evidence that clicks from Pinterest are far more productive than clicks from Facebook and Twitter. Does this mean that retailers should invest more overall in Pinterest presences than their Facebook and Twitter presences? Of course not. But for a retailer looking at a Pinterest investment, data with ROI implications shouldn't be ignored.

4. Overlap

Many consumers are active on multiple social networks. For brands, this can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it gives brands opportunities to create stronger relationships by putting multiple channels to work. On the other hand, it can lead to duplicative effort and investment that doesn't deliver results that scale as desired.

When evaluating a new social site, brands should analyze just how much overlap there is between the social channels they're already present in and the new site. While some overlap is to be expected, higher levels of overlap may suggest that resource instead be committed to new channels that can bring new functionality, audiences and engagement types.

5. Risk

Brands face numerous risks when joining new social sites. At one extreme, they risk investing in services that won't go anywhere. On the other, they risk not getting in on the next big thing early when competition and costs of user acquisition are lowest.

The costs of either can be huge. Staff time is not cheap and opportunity costs can be significant, but missing out on the opportunity to jump on a trend early can be expensive. As a result, brands should assess the risks they may be taking when looking at new social networking services.

How to quantify risk? Plotting functionality, demographics, ROI and levels of overlap against existing social investments is a good start.

Patricio Robles

Published 18 September, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2392 more posts from this author

Comments (3)

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Unternehmensberatung Stephan Jäckel

I feel the list lacks essential points and within the points there need to be some additions.

Prior to joining a new social platform it has to be made sure that the goals are cleraly outlined and that the ressources to achieve them are available. Just handing a staff already busy with one, two or three other platforms yet another one and even if it is only for experimenting, does simply NOT work.

Developing a brand within a social platform asks for a lifecycle-approach and so the ressources must be planned including precautions of a "sudden rise" phenomenon which will see the platform triple its membership weekly.

Having said this, it is not only about the development staff but the communication staff and the processes behind the site which have to be ready to accomodate the new channel and its potential growth.

Whatever functionalities are copied from other platforms to the new one or exclusively developed for it: They must be communicated clearly to people working in processes behind the platfrom. A maximum of transparency on platform users their activities and development of platform must be assured as well as feed-balck from processes must be used to improve the social presence and interaction. The data to be shared is (among many others) of social-demografic nature but may also include results from in-house analysis and third parties as long as this does not collide with rules on data-protection.

Overlap should not be considered a problem. People won't choose to spend time and effort on a social presence on a platform for nothing and no reason. Therefore being even on a platform that has the same funcionalities as another one makes sense, if it makes sense to the customer. To be available wherever the customer is, is not a bad thing.

Indeed overlap will mean reduced investment costs since the processes for handling the social communication and functionalities are already in place. Overlap reduces fixed costs associated with joining a social platform. So growing socially with identical functions and processes enhances ROI for each platform activity already in place and helps building a coherent brand experience via competences and possibilities offered in the social context on various platforms.

The risks associated are actually within the platfrom itself. A platform may seem great to join but lack of funding may make the user experience a bad one resulting in slow growth. Also a lack of funding for a platform may lead to one-time write-offs if it suddenly falters or gets a new direction after a platform sale. So prior to joining a platform a sorrow analysis on its team and financial backing needs to take place.

The biggest riks remaining though was, is and always will be failing in social communication by having too few people with too little freedom to act and bad processes with little to no external ind internal transparency in place.

If management is unwilling to allow for the ressources needed to become relevant to customers in the Social Business world then it is better to run experiments on platforms under fake brand names without any process integration except for trail structures.

That way a company is at least better prepared to join a platfrom as a late-adopter or at a peek time when getting there, where everybody else already has a place, becomes a much more costly and stressful operation with much higher costs and need for staff than a dedicated and strategic growth in social funcionalities would ask for.

So if you are a Social Business Manager in your company and Controling asks you why now and not later tell them that later means 10 percent highter costs per year plus inflation based on the assumption that competitors do not move prior to you. And we all know that there are lots of fast-moving small and mid-size businesses out there ready to take what they can get.

almost 4 years ago

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Colleen Jones

This is a handy list of considerations. I'd also add content. Many social sites focus on a particular type of content, such as images or video. Consider whether your brand has those kinds of content assets and whether they can be repurposed or whether creating those assets is worth the investment.

almost 4 years ago

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John Dennis

Great article and some insightful comments here. Pretty much agree with what Colleen has said about content. It is a very useful thing to consider.

almost 4 years ago

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