OMG! Twitter is, like, so 2008

Twitter: so 2008
Twitter: so 2008

LONDON - OMG! Twitter is, like, so 2008 but there are handfuls of other social media sites vying to be the next big thing. Revolution identifies the next wave of social networks vying to takeover.

When Jonathan Ross name-checked Twitter on his Friday night chat show recently, he cemented the microblog's status as a mainstream media platform and simultaneously rendered it fundamentally uncool.

You could almost hear the collective sigh emitted by Twitterers around the UK. It had been nice while it lasted, but the time had come to move on to something new. Sure enough, the invasion had begun. Celebrities, politicians and brands began Twittering in their droves keen to prove they were 'down with the kids' by tapping into the very latest online craze.

Such was the extent of the recent influx that figures from Hitwise show that traffic to the site increased by 974 per cent last year, a surge that shows no signs of slowing.

Facebook has also become a victim of its own phenomenal success. In little over five years since its launch, the social network has attracted 150 million users and established itself as one of the most popular websites on the planet.

It wasn't too long ago that Facebook represented a semi-secret world that belonged largely to those in their teens and twenties. Today, however, the demographic has widened, and it is undeniably part of the mainstream. For better or worse, the space that was once the province of the young has been eagerly colonised by their parents and teachers, not to mention the marketing men with their slogans and special offers.

Just as the shift from Facebook to Twitter has emphasised, the danger for the social media sites is that the early adopters who made them such a success in the first place will move on to other things. The trick for these plucky pioneers of social media is to establish a sound commercial model capable of attracting truckloads of cash before their user base migrates elsewhere. Facebook is racing to make its advertising offering a reality with its Engagement Ads service, while Twitter, despite its posturing, is yet to get out of the starting blocks.

Brands are, however, slowly making their way onto Twitter; the RAC and Comparethemarket.com are already there, revelling in the glory of achieving a media first. For other advertisers, instead of mourning missed opportunities, it's worth looking elsewhere and developing a strategy to engage with consumers on emerging social networks. Users will be surprised by innovative brands coming on to new platforms and will often pass news of these developments on to their friends or followers.

There's no question that social media is here to stay, but for the majority of internet-savvy young consumers Facebook and Twitter are already old news. So rather than continuing to let you waste time flogging a dead horse, we've identified six of the hottest new social media sites and what they offer for advertisers.

Video blogging - Seesmic.com

Seesmic is a video-blogging venture launched by French entrepreneur Loic Le Meur.

As with the conventional blog, opinions are posted and replies invited, but in this case it's all done by video. This obviously has its limitations. While blogging on Twitter is an instant experience, the requirement to create blogs using a web or video cam, and then upload them, will probably act as a barrier to participation.

On the other hand, the video blog may well become the next big thing for a generation of web users who have already grown accustomed to regularly uploading user-generated clips to YouTube. And as Will McInnes, managing director of NixonMcInnes, points out: "What it allows you to do is have a much deeper and more human conversation than would be possible via a conventional blog."

This, he argues, could be a godsend for brands that are already using blogs to communicate with their audience. "It's an ideal space for a chief executive to make an important announcement," he says.

Link: Seesmic.com

Streamed music - Spotify.com

iTunes may still rule the roost when it comes to paid-for downloads, but it is the potential of streamed music, available on demand, that is really making waves.

It's not a new development. Our very own Last.fm launched free access to its catalogue in 2008 (with each stream initially limited to three plays) and US-based Blip FM encourages its community of DJs to share their choices with others.

Lately, though, it's Spotify that has been capturing the consumer imagination, not least because a key part of its business model is music to the ears of advertisers and record companies alike.

Spotify offers unlimited access to a huge catalogue. And it's free - provided the user opts to watch ads ahead of tracks. So for brands, Spotify creates a captive audience but equally importantly, it provides marketers with a community based around shared interests.

As Terna Jibo, associate director of 2CV Research, says: "Sites such as Friendfeed and Spotify have users with common interests and aligned lifestyle needs, therefore advertisers have a real opportunity to see a return on their marketing investment."

There is no option to download songs, but Spotify encourages a sense of community through shared playlists. At the moment, user numbers are limited, a fact that has only served to enhance its cult status.

Link: Spotify.com

Mobile social networking - Gypsii.com

As Shane Lennon, senior vice-president of marketing at Gypsii, sees it, a big part of the future of social media lies in mobile devices.

"You may only be at a PC for part of the day, but most people have a handset with them at all times," he says. It's a reality that's not been lost on the big networks - witness the rush to get Bebo, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube onto mobile devices - but standalone mobile operators such as Gypsii hope to be part of the land grab.

Currently trialling in China and planning a western European launch, Gypsii is about "sharing experience". Or to be more specific, it allows users to locate friends via their mobile phone. The system uses GPS to track the location of specific individuals and then allows them to share personal experiences via pictures, talk and text.

Commercially, that translates into an ad-supported model, with creative targeted on the basis of information on interests, demographics and location. "Traditionally, mobile advertising has been about an inventory throw," says Lennon. "We can be a lot more targeted. For instance, we could target ads at people who like a certain type of car, or people who are out clubbing at any given time."

Link: Gypsii.com

Career-oriented - FDCareer.com

Despite a rather dull and corporate-sounding name, FDCareer promises to make professional development a fun activity. To this end, it has created a virtual world, combining elements of career-focused sites like Xing and Linkedin with the role-playing function of, say, Second Life.

Aimed at students and young professionals, FDCareer allows its users to build online profiles based on their education, career and personal achievements. As achievements are added, the user rises to higher levels within the site and can access more features. There is also a commercial point: brands can establish their own headquarters within the FDCareer world, allowing them to interact with potential employees or customers.

Link: FDCareer.com

Student life - Thequad.com

Given the vast numbers of students who populate Facebook, MySpace and Bebo, it's a logical leap of faith to assume that they might sometimes want a space to themselves, where they can they discuss the triumphs and traumas of academic life.

Thequad.com provides just that opportunity. Set up as a social network exclusively for students, it offers social spaces, study forums and a shop selling college-oriented products. At the moment, it's largely an American-focused forum, but it does offer advertisers the chance to reach the movers and shakers of tomorrow.

Link: Thequad.com

Image-focused - Elements

This social network exudes effortless cool. Just as Twitter allows its users to share their thoughts in microblogs, Elements enables pictures to be distributed in similar fashion.

If you see a picture that sums up your mood, Elements allows you to broadcast that element to others on the network. If on the other hand, you're seeking inspiration, clicking on 'explore' will pull in images from other users. What's more, a software tool known as 'themes' allows you to write notes on web pages and share them. Lunarr, the company behind Elements, has also developed Themes, an experimental project-management tool based on social networking. But it's Elements that has the potential to become mainstream.

Whether Elements will become a genuine cult remains to be seen, but as things stand it's a talking point for the digerati.

Link: http://elements.lunarr.com/

Corporate communicatio - Yammer.com

The words 'social media' and 'productivity' aren't normally deployed together in the same sentence, unless it's to bemoan the fact that overuse of Facebook or Twitter during the working day is having a significantly negative impact on the output of staff. That could change with Yammer.com, a tool designed to get employees talking and boost their productivity in the process.

Yammer aims to encourage people employed within companies to interact with one another around the projects, tasks and problems that involve them during the working day. Individuals sign up using their corporate email address and invite others to join. From that point, they can use the tool to ask questions of other members of the group,such as: "What are you working on today?" Once that question has been answered, other members can join the thread. Old conversation streams are stored and everyone has the option of a profile. It's a bit like a corporate Twitter.

But here's the clever bit. While membership of a group is free to employees working for a particular company, the employer can also join the party - at a price. By 'claiming the network' companies can introduce their own branding and manage both content and members. A claim costs $12 (£8) per employee and that's where the Yammer team is hoping to strike gold.

Link: Yammer.com

Multi-network management - Power.com

Entrepreneur Steve Vachini is nothing if not ambitious. Put simply, he wants his Brazil-based venture Power.com to become the centre of the web 2.0 universe.

The idea is not new. In a world where significant numbers of Facebook users also have accounts on, say, MySpace or Bebo, there is clearly a place for tools that allow users to manage their contacts across multiple networks, and services such as Friendfeed have moved in to fill that space. Launched in 2008, Power.com also allows the user to bring together a range of accounts within a single control panel. However, messages can be read and written without stepping outside that user interface. Crucially, friends on other networks don't have to be signed up to Power.com to either receive or respond to those messages.

Having launched in Brazil and India - where it has clocked up more than five million users - Power.com is rolling out in the US, where it aggregates MySpace, Facebook, Hi5, Orkut, MSN Messenger and YouTube. There are some missing elements, however. Key social media players such as Twitter and LinkedIn are currently absent from the Power.com mix but, if it takes off, its aggregation model could easily generate the user numbers that will bring advertisers on board.

Link: Power.com

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