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In theory, creating a standalone social network makes a lot of sense for a celebrity for two primary reasons:
Social networking is really just an extension of the basic "community" functionality many celebrity websites already offer. I believe that social networking functionality will eventually approach ubiquitousness as it is integrated into most popular websites.
- Control is valuable and "owning" a social network gives a celebrity the type of control that he or she doesn't have elsewhere. From monetization to communication, there is no doubt that control results in a level of flexibility and opportunity that is difficult to achieve when a celebrity "leases" a spot on an existing social network.
Some celebrities seem to benefiting from their social networking initiatives. According to Reuters:
"Fans seem to be buying directly from the sites. On Minogue's KylieKonnect, launched in fall 2007 through U.K.-based New Visions Mobile, nearly 25 percent of users have made a ringtone, download or merchandise purchase, company director Julia McNally says."
Of course, while it's difficult to ascertain how much "new" revenue KylieKonnect has actually generated for Kylie Minogue, revenue is revenue.
That said, I'm not sold that some of the celebrity social networking initiatives are really going to create significant value, especially when looked at in the context of how much opportunity many of these celebrities have elsewhere.
There are far too many standalone social networks and celebrity social networks still find themselves competing for attention in this crowded market.
The potential advantage that celebrities have to compete in such a market is high-quality, exclusive content. Unfortunately, it appears that many of the celebrity social networks offer more vanilla social networking functionality than they do compelling content.
Take, for instance, 50 Cent's social network Thisis50.com. There's nothing truly original about it. It's hosted by Ning and offers an experience comparable to that of MySpace (similar features, slow loading pages, etc.). While there is content on Thisis50.com, it doesn't appear to me that it's very compelling (and that's coming from somebody who listens to rap music).
At the end of the day, while 50 Cent might be able to do more with it than he could his MySpace page, the chances that Thisis50.com will ever attract 1 million "friends" is probably slim.
The truth is that celebrity is rarely enough to guarantee the success of a standalone venture. It can be a powerful driver for success when leveraged correctly, but celebrities hoping to build something of significant value will have to offer something truly unique and be fully engaged.
To that end, Ludacris' WeMix.com is quite a bit more interesting. Instead of creating a generic social network for himself, the rapper is leveraging his name to create a service where aspiring musicians have a chance to be heard and those that the community believe have potential get the chance to work with "the best in the business to make a real record."
It may not succeed, but it's certainly more interesting than Thisis50.com and demonstrates that Ludacris exercised a bit more creativity than 50 Cent, who demonstrated none by simply setting up a Ning social network.
While the commoditization of social networks has made it cheap and easy for celebrities to build their own MySpaces, celebrities looking to leverage their names online successfully will learn that doing so isn't much different than running a startup - they need to offer a compelling product that offers real value to users and they'll need to remain committed to developing that product.
Doing anything else is a waste of time and it would be a shame to see celebrities wasting theirs. After all, they have better things to do (parties, rehab, etc.).