Social media sites like Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, hi5, and Orkut have a specific value proposition for those who interact with them. In the recent Avenue A Razorfish 2008 Digital Outlook Report these sites (along with their smaller social application cousins, like Flickr, del.icio.us, Digg, etc.) are identified as key entry points into existing web properties. The report observes specifically that “many top Web properties see 50% to 75% or more of their traffic originate somewhere other than the home page”. With so many hits originating from outside the main web site, it begs the question: Is social media the new home page?

No longer are web portals and directories the primary way that people discover content. Now there are rich communities of people documenting what they like and sharing it with friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Many of these social sharing events take place in the context of a primary social media site. Engagement with users now takes place on a different playing field, and marketing managers and web site producers need evaluate how their web site engages with these social media behemoths. There is a lot of value in these networks to enable viral marketing and viral growth. But the model of the large social media sites is very similar to the broadcast television network model. For Facebook and its ilk, the value is in the ads and the content is there to draw eyeballs. To me, this is very clear in that there is no monetization model associated with producing successful applications, groups, or “pages” (profiles of non-users). Let me be clear, there is certainly a place for these properties on the web, and I certainly respect what these sites have put together. And for other web properties who need the reach provided by them, they are the clear place to go.

However, if your site’s interests conflict in any way with the goals of the major social media sites, you should consider how to go about engaging with these sites with some caution. Engaging with social media sites is like renting an apartment or a house. All improvements (i.e. additional traffic you generate, additional stickiness that your application or other innovation produces) belong to the owner, not to you. This doesn’t mean that the place doesn’t deserve a coat of paint, but are you really going to put on that addition?

There are ways to engage with these large sites so that your message doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. It requires some careful thought and planning, but it is possible to tap into the extraordinary opportunity provided by social media while maintaining (and growing) your own position in the marketplace. What are your thoughts, fears, opinions on engaging with these sites?

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