Can We Monetize Our Social Networks?

While the term ‘Web 2.0’ may not have any real meaning to you and I, as internet uses, we can not deny the symbolic value of this term. Internet gurus say that Web 2.0 basically represents the paradigm shift in the way we consume the Internet. You and I are no more just the passive consumers, who got involved, excited or got offended by something we read, saw or heard on the Internet, but could not do anything about it. With Web 2.0 we got our voice back and we can now easily voice our opinions. We are now ‘prosumers’ (a consumer who produces content as well).

With this new found status, individuals have started to create value that they can share with others on the Internet: thus came into existence ‘social networking’ and ‘social bookmarking’ web sites.

As we, the user, creates value we should expect to reap rewards as well. By rewards I mean real rewards: cash, followers and clientele. The question is how do you convert your reputation share into real money? I will not claim that this is an easy task or that this article is a magic potion. The process will take time but the point is, it is possible to make money using these ‘social’ sites.

Let’s first understand the nature of the Internet. The Internet is just a medium, a medium through which you communicate, share, experience, shop and access information on the things you want to know about.  What differentiates the social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, twitter, plurk, orkut etc., and the social bookmarking sites like Digg, reddit, StumbleUpon, del.icio.us etc., from rest of the web sites is their power to extensively communicate and broadcast. To draw an analogy from the broadcast medium we can say, these sites are prime time slots of the Internet.

Where to start?
A product or an idea can be a good starting point but not the perfect one. Everyone has a product or some idea, which they think is ground breaking, but not everyone, earns a reward from it. So, before exposing your products or idea to social networks, you need to build trust. This is the essence of peer-to-peer recommendation; this is ‘the thing’‘. This is what most marketing campaign, even word of mouth marketing lacks. Once the required trust is in place, we can then start marketing our products.

Instead of spamming all our contacts with every product we have to sell, we should hand-pick the contacts from our list and provide them not only informational material on the product, but also the experience you and others have had using the product. This micro-targeting will have higher conversion rate as the product information will reach the right hands and will have the required personal touch to it.

What to sell?
Anything that is safe, ethical and beneficial to others. You can sell anything you are passionate about and that has demand among people. You can pass on your affiliate links of favorite movies or books, or you can ask your contacts to check out your particular website or online store. You can even invite your contacts to visit your blog or web site which in turn may build regular traffic to those sites.

Which tool to use?
The answer to this lies in the age-old wisdom: what is your goal? You can use networking sites to build brand awareness or to provide detailed information about the things you liked. Bookmarking a site can be used to make announcements about the recent updates. The mixture of these strategies can even attract referral traffic for your blogs or web sites.

You can also consider using twitter and plurk to keep your audience posted, for immediate announcement of your product with links, and these can also be used as teasers to pull visitors to the page of your liking.

Always remember, it is ultimately the product or the idea that sells. Social networking and social bookmarking sites can potentially provide you with new visitors or can induce trial for your product or idea; it is the product that ultimately will get sold, so quality both in product and accompanying information must never be compromised.