another week, and Mediation observes another brand embarking on an online social networking adventure. BrandRepublic yesterday reported that MTV is "launching a social networking site called MTV House, which will allow members to interact with each other using avatars and take part in competitions and promotions". we've been here before, in April HMV announced a similar venture. good luck to them.
I'm just not convinced that people will join brand-led online social networks (or OSN as I'm already bored of typing it)... and if they do, the offering will remain niche - the people who join will need to be really into that brand. a quick survey of Mediation's office (20-30 year old Londonites) generated 30 respondents who between them consider themselves to be part of (one or more of) thirteen online social networks - from Facebook to secret member-only DJ sites (10% didn't belong to any online social network).
Sites ranked by claimed membership – most to least (27 respondents): sites with one claimed membership: bebo, Flickr, LastFM, Small World, MSN Spaces, YouTube Pownce, MakeTheTea.com and a secret DJ club
now this isn't statistically robust, but let's run with it. the average respondent belongs to 1.6 social networks. but, unsurprisingly, when ranked by site with most to least claimed membership, they form a long tail distribution, with a minority of sites accounting for the vast majority of members. this at least demonstrates the potential for smaller niche OSNs to exist, but if you're stuck in the tail its an expensive way for a brand to aggregate and entertain what is a niche audience.
all brands - and especially media brands - have to ask themselves what business they're in. non media brands should avoid this area like the plague. but media brands face a much tougher call... MTV - like any media brand - is an aggregator, but is MTV in the content or audience aggregation business?
if difficult to argue against investment in the creation of their own OSN if they commit to being the latter (after all they should follow their audience as they migrate to joint TV / Online viewing), but financially they'd be better off in investing in the creation of applications which capitalised on the dedicated OSN that already exist.
on the plus side they'd get access to a much larger audience for a lower cost, but on the down side they couldn't as easily generate a return on that investment thru commercial selling of that audience to advertisers. instead MTV's presence on existing online social networks would be a means of navigating audiences to MTV's commercial spaces.
its a tough call... but becoming a bit-player in the tail of online social network offerings is a place this angel would fear to tread.