Social Networking: Examining User Behavior

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Results from a recent iProspect study outline the specific behaviors of users visiting the most popular social networking sites. Among other items, the study finds that marketers should spend more time and resources investing in sites that operate within a relevant niche to their product than they have in the past.

According to the study, more people visit the major search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN) much more frequently than the most popular social networking sites. With that being said, marketers shouldn’t be looking to abandon their ranking efforts in paid and organic search anytime soon.

Still, social networking users are growing at an accelerated rate. One in four Internet users visits a social site at least once a month, and that figure only looks to increase over the next several years. The Internet is shifting from a medium of information to one of participation, and iProspect suggests that marketers follow that trend and encourage consumer participation in their marketing efforts.

One of the more interesting points in the findings, however, is the notion of vertical marketing. Sure, MySpace has the sheer numbers, but chances are that you will actually be more successful by placing your product into a smaller group of users that are actually passionate about the particular niche.

Here’s what iProspect had to say about the vertical aspect of social networking:

Though sites such as YouTube and MySpace were designed to appeal to a high percentage of the online user population, many social search engines have been built to serve, and attract, a community that is defined by their affinity to a vertical industry, a business model, or an interactive activity type.

Sites such as del.icio.us (bookmarking), LinkedIn (BtoB), and TripAdvisor (travel and hospitality), though visited by less than 10% of Internet users, nonetheless can serve as highly targeted, extremely effective means to reach very specific profiles of potential customers. Marketers should research their industry’s/niche’s universe of social networking sites, and explore those offering this special targeting.

Going back to search for a moment, iProspect notes that most visits to social networking sites come from search engine referrals. Again, this reinforces the notion that social marketing isn’t a separate beast from search, but rather is designed to work in concert with an effective search marketing campaign.

The study also looks at how social networks have changed how consumers respond to marketing messages:

It’s still early in the history of social networking, yet one out of three Internet users is already taking advantage of a site containing user-generated content to help make a decision to buy, or not to buy something. This bodes well for the future of these sites that take advantage of our human nature to trust the recommendations (and warnings) of fellow consumers more than we do the claims and “marketing-speak” of professional marketers.

So if you’re looking to reach that ever-elusive 18-24 demographic, you might want to examine your search and social marketing strategies for synergy, while taking advantage of any verticals that are relevant to your particular product or service. 

Social Networking: Examining User Behavior
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  • Waheed Elqalatawy

    Dear Joe,
    The more we read about Social Bookmarking sites the more we are crazy about exploring them all again and again. Surfing these sites is not an easy job, it consumes a lot of time,moreover they make the difficult thing more difficult by their own mysterious procedures ( until now I do not know the AOL screen name to sign-in with in Netscape).
    Some of them recommend members to support other members through visiting their spots in these sites, commenting,rating…etc), and unless the surfer is an experienced and persistent one and knows how to exploit these sites for his favor easily, it ends with the normal surfers up to quiting these sites implementing the rule of “what is in it for me”.
    If people finds these sites are easy to surf, and are reflecting a sensible response to their efforts, they
    would stick to them, and we can compare the number of visitors of both de.icio.us
    and myspace, moreover I never heard any marketer saying more than he is looking for the hot trends at these sites.

    My point here is that you, the opinion leaders through your widely read sites are asked to recommend them too, they should reconsider their sites and their surfing way. In a nutshell, Social Bookmarking sites are not easy to surf.

  • Winthrop Morgan

    Dear Joe:

    Thank you for your informative article on social networks and marketing. Your analysis of the iProspect study was succinct and clear.

    Did you know that the term “social marketing” actually refers to something quite different than marketing through social networks? In fact, there is a profession called “Social Marketing.” We social marketers apply commercial marketing techniques; our approach is evidence-based, process oriented, audience-centric. But we do it for a very different purpose. We restrict our work to promoting goods, services, attitudes, and behaviors designed to benefit society (hence the term “Social” marketing.)

    Leaders in this field include Philip Kotler, Alan Andreason, Craig LeFebvre, Bill Novelli, and Bill Smith. Even Everett Rogers , who popularized Diffusion of Innovations, practiced social marketing.

    Since before the Internet, social marketers have helped communities to reduce their incidence of infectious diseases, increase treatment of potentially life threatening diseases, and eliminate risky behaviors such as smoking.

    Since at least 1999, social marketers have been active on the Internet. That’s when I began to work with the National Institutes of Health to apply social marketing online. We disseminated public health information about such key health issues as cholesterol and high blood pressure via email lists, discussion lists, bulletin boards, usenet groups, free Palm OS program downloads, search engine optimization, and link building campaigns. We freely distributed authoritative information, and encouraged others to share it to promote awareness, knowledge, and application of ways to detect, diagnose, and manage high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure. Through this new medium, we reached millions of at-risk individuals with life-saving information who otherwise might have been kept in the dark.

    Again, thanks for the great information and writing. An would it be possible, writing in future (and this also applies to the headline editor you work with) to keep in mind that social marketing means more – much more – than simply marketing to online social networks? If you would, those of us who are struggling to keep socially beneficial information visible and accessible, will be grateful.


    Winthrop Morgan, MPH, CeM
    Social Marketer

  • Linda

    As someone who has a definite niche market with our internet store (Texas gifts, Texas decor, Texas apparel, etc.), we are challenged in fnding the “social networking” sites you mentioned. And while you are absolutely correct that we need to focus in those areas where our business is generated, if you’re not real computer savvy (which I’m not), it does become frustrating in deciding which ones are relevant (and affordable) and which ones aren’t (just another come on to those of us who don’t know the difference). I’m glad I took the time to read your article as it’s healthy to have a “reality check” every now and then – and to remember what we learned in Marketing 101!

  • Nightshift

    I agree with this article. Age groups 35 and up are getting more of a cold shoulder from companies. We lived in an age where we could talk to a person on the phone. Now its press 1 for this and even some companies make it so you can even get in touch with a live person, such as cricket communications. You have to dig and do research to even find a number that will lead to a live person.

    Personal touch will win.

  • Geoffrey D. Simon

    I think companies can benefit from creating their own social media sites targeted to their particular industry, creating a very niche group of captive prospects.

    For instance, if you have a CRM company you could create a social networking community for people looking to interact and discuss tips, preferred services, etc. that is sponsored by YOU! (your CRM company).

    Allowing user-generated content, profiles and other interactive features could be appealing to people within a specific vertical, such as CRM. All this content and social bookmarking and web 2.0 elements can skyrocket rankings for this social media site you sponsor. The inbound links to this site are something that is becoming harder to achieve with a strictly commercial site. And as most people know, quality content and one-way inbound links are a big factor in how Google ranks sites.

    So I agree with the premise that search marketing and social marketing do go hand in hand. You can generate a ton of traffic, links, user information from your social networking site.

    With an already captive audience in place you can craft and place your message in front of these people.

    The company I work for, Social Media Systems (http:socialmediasystems.com) does just this and we have received an excellent response from people using our services as they have achieved search rankings that would of otherwise been impossible with their current site configuration.

  • Rusty Rose

    I have a mall with over 60 stores in it. I sell almost anything you want to mention, including Western Union, a U. S. Post Office, an online Bank, as well as clothing stores (Wal-Mart, Sears, Target, etc.). How do I figure a relevant niche? Where would I find a social networking website that harbors shopaholics?



    Sounds good to get more customers. They are the landing pages (target). Customers search through major search engines and will not spend time in these landing pages for other products.

    It is surprised to see even large search engines such as ENTIREWEB is unable to deliver to commercial customers. People just want to go through Google Yahoo or MSN. Unless this mentality is changed by a new concept, it is better to advertise with them than any other mode.

    We are ready to take this challenge with new concepts to grab the market and would be happy to hear from CONTRIBUTERS and INVESTORS.

  • Dave Carlson

    Hello, we are a non-traditional brand marketing agency and it would be great to share our tips with the world. Would you be interested in having us submit ideas for your newsletter? Let me know. Thanks for your time. Check us out at http://www.degreesinc.com.


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  • Tod Whipple

    Hi Joe,

    I’m a big fan of your column and weekly reader of the webpronews letter. I am a founder of a niche social networking site called Startup Addict ready to launch in about 3 weeks. I have been under the radar for the last 6 months and I certainly hope it is received well. The trend I noticed is exactly as you stated, what is more effective, 140 million users of myspace that are a needle in a haystack to target or 3 million users of a site like Startup Addict where you know it is a highly targeted vertical of entrepreneurs and anyone else in the Startup value chain. Where impressions and sponsorships become as powerful if not more as click throughs because of the potency of brand exposure.


    Best Regards,
    Tod Whipple

  • http://www.upkelk.com ??????

    I see,,

    The most important way for the deployment of my sites ..

    Is the search engines
    Like Google ..
    Medm because visitors are looking for applications from these sites ..

    Most of the topics to be either

    Movies or pictures ..

    This is required ..

    The other topics that do not have any interest in it ..

    Tried to fix the other slaves, but the best way Come on search engines ..

    Thank you, Sir, on the chances we Ataank


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