#3: Pivot Points – scale, privacy, and specificity

Alex Steer writes: I blogged yesterday about the ‘Four Cs’ of social networking – the constants that underpin people’s desire to interact online. Yet the future of social networking will be determined by how they choose to interact, and this changes far more unpredictably. We can’t know the outcome of those decisions – and they’ll vary, anyway, for different people at different times and in different places – we can identify the shape their decisions and behaviours will take. To do this, we have identified six critical uncertainties that will shape the future of online social networking. We call these the Pivot Points – scale, privacy, specificity, pervasiveness, utility and worldview. In this post I am going to explore the first three of these.

Scale – Big Net or Tight Knit?

We know that people around the world value the openness and connectedness of an increasingly global society – but at the same time they can feel daunted by its complexity and variety. So will they want the scale benefits of large networks, or the intimacy benefits of small ones?

A Big Net future would be good news for Facebook or Twitter in their current form, as consumers seek out big social networks, with large numbers of relatively superficial connections. Buzzwords in this future might be sharing, crowdsourcing, and entertainment; brands can connect by creating content with broad mainstream appeal, designed to be shared widely.

In a Tight Knit future, though, consumers would seek small social networks, close and meaningful connections, with content tailored to specific groups and interests. Buzzwords like curation, collaboration and community do well, and small and intimate networks thrive.

Privacy – Closed Fist or Open Hand?

The reconfiguration of ideas and expectations around privacy in a highly-networked world is likely to be a flashpoint for businesses and brands in developed markets in the next few years, but even in those markets behaviour and attitudes are out of sync – and in emerging markets the dynamics of privacy are very different. So which will people value most – safeguards on private data, or the easy transfer of personalization across sites?

In a Closed Fist future the data toybox is shut. Networks and marketers are required to respect personal data boundaries, and store only the data they need, for as long as they need it, and with the clear permission of users. Privacy, control and safeguarding are the watchwords.

But in an Open Hand future seamless, multi-platform convenience is king, and data is used smartly to deliver custom offers and add value through targeting. Networks and marketers would recognize their online users as soon as they log in, and tailor offerings based on data – no annoying tick-boxes or manual configuration required.

Specificity – One For All or One For Each?

The last few years have been dominated by the big networks, acting as one-stop shops for their users. But this is only one possible way of maximizing the simplicity of our online interactions – another is to be far more granular. So will we expect single networks to facilitate all our social connections, or will we divide our time between several?

In a One for All future, ‘umbrella’ networks – the Facebooks and Renrens – do well; the buzzwords are multifunctional, multimedia, multipurpose. Brands need to provide a range of ways for consumers to interact with them within the big networks – from video content to competitions, social gaming to customer service.

But in a One for Each future, consumers will expect to use many, tightly-defined networks for different parts of their online lives: think compartments, specificity, functionality. Brands have to respect users’ “digital partitions”, and be in all the right channels, without ever forcing customers to link up their separate social streams to access content or services.

In the fourth post in this series, I introduce the three remaining Pivot Points – pervasiveness, utility and worldview – and some implications for businesses and marketers. Click through to posts one and two. The t-shirt design at the top of this post is by Jazzmo, and it is used with thanks.

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