Mark Zuckerberg sent a message to all Facebook users announcing that the social network reached an astounding 350 million users — more than doubling it’s numbers from just over a year ago. “When it comes to social networks, history has shown that it’s hard to stay on top; sites like Bebo, hi5 and even MySpace, have all lost much of their former glory,” writes Mashable’s Stan Schroeder. “But Facebook is getting bigger and bigger, with no strong competitor in sight. Will it become the Google of social networking?”
Interesting question. While MySpace is seeing ever declining numbers, not many social networks are even close to the gargantuan size of Facebook. With no clear competitors in site, we asked the question, what qualities must a social network have in order to compete? A competitor must:
Be authentic — Authenticity is key to parallel Facebook’s success. In fact, the social networking leader lends much of its success to authenticity and transparency. Facebook’s framework is built by real people. When Facebook first launched in February 2004, only users with a .edu account could join. Only a few years after it’s launch, Facebook became the college student’s social network.
To capture a broader audience, Facebook then opened their doors to everyone else. While it is possible to create a fake Facebook page today, the seed of authenticity and transparency that was planted years ago has cultivated an honest social network culture. Future social networks will have to build on a similar structure.
Leverage Facebook — In social media, it’s not about them against us. In fact, any social network that wants to fall in ranks with Facebook must work with the social network to grow their initial user base. Facebook Connect is a great way for existing Facebook users move across platforms and plug into a new social network. Once Facebook users are on the new social network, there must be a different, but equally valuable user experience.
You’re not trying to steal users. Instead you’re trying to provide a channel for them to experience a new social network. Ryan Paugh, a founder of Brazen Careerist, a Gen Y networking site, speaks to this point: “we have a symbiotic relationship with other social networking sites. Conversations are happening out there and if we don’t become a part of them we’re missing out.”
Target Asia — Asia accounts for nearly half (45.2%) of the world’s internet usage, and there’s a lot of room to grow. North America’s internet penetration is 74.2% of 340 million people, while the rest of the world has 23% penetration of 6.42 billion people (and an internet annual growth rate of 485.7%), according to Internet World Stats.
China alone accounts for one sixth of the world’s population (a total of 1,338,612,968 people) with a mere 26.9% penetration. That’s 73.1% room for growth. As China emerges as a strong economic leader on the world stage, there is a prime opportunity to capture the next 350 million users.
While it would be unwise to build Facebook II, it’s important to draw from key attributes that have led to their current success. By opening your doors to the “next billion,” working with, not against other social networks and striving for authenticity and transparency, it is possible to reach such stratospheric heights. Although it might seem impossible for anyone to surpass Facebook in the near future, isn’t it equally as impossible to imagine Facebook as the #1 social media site forever? If there is one lesson that we can take away from social media, things change quickly.
Headline image by Kostya Kisleyko from Stock.Xchng