Social sphere more than just Facebook

Social networking realm not exclusive to Facebook as other social sites thrive despite competition from networking giant, say industry insiders, amid reports that Facebook membership is waning.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Social networking is not just about Facebook although the site is one of the "cores" of today's Internet scene, say industry watchers who note that other networking mediums such as blogs are still thriving.

Michael Smith Jr., head of global tech initiatives at Yahoo Singapore, said no single social media or networking site will ever take over the entire Internet sphere. Elaborating, he explained that for people who are interested in blogging or social games, for example, sites such as LiveJournal and Friendster are "still alive and as big as ever".

There is, however, an increasing trend in which global brands such as Facebook are usurping leadership in regional markets once assumed by locally-grown entities, said Smith, during a panel discussion at startup conference, Echelon 2011, held here Thursday.

Chiming in, Roshni Mahtani, managing director at Tickled Media, said Facebook is not the "be all and end all" for the online social networking scene. Tickled Media is an online publishing house that was recently appointed the Southeast Asia and India representative for blogging and social network, LiveJournal.

Mahtani, who was also a panelist alongside Smith, noted that Facebook might not be everyone's cup of tea. For people who wish to express themselves differently from Facebook, there are alternatives, such as LiveJournal which allows for "citizen journalism", that offer a different space and medium.

That said, Facebook is still one of the "cores" of the Internet, together with Google, said Ganesh Kumar Bangah, group CEO of MOL Group, which is the payments provider that acquired social networking site Friendster in 2009. The executive was also a panelist with Smith and Mahtani.

The difference between Facebook and other alternatives lie in their core features, which Bangah described as "the users, relationships and activities". For instance, he noted that users on LinkedIn are mostly business executives and the relationships they maintain are typically with colleagues, work partners and acquaintances. This is different from Facebook, which relates users with their physical social network of family and friends as well as work-related associates, he explained.

With these varied core features, Bangah believes different social networks serve different purposes and can develop complementary, rather than competitive, relationships.

The panelists at Echelon 2011 were responding to reports that revealed a decline in Facebook membership in the U.S. and whether this represented the start of a downward slide for the social networking giant.

Figures from research and marketing firm, Inside Facebook, on Jun. 12 stated that the social network grew by 11.8 million U.S. users in May, down from 13.9 million in April and off its 12-month average of at least 20 million new users a month.

Success with personal touch
Meanwhile, conference keynote speaker Derek Sivers, urged startups here to focus on their core business premise and infuse their processes with a human touch in order to be successful. Sivers is the founder of CD Baby, which is the "largest online distributor of independent music", according to its Web site.

The Singapore-based entrepreneur said many Asian startups do not take time to figure out why are doing what they do. Oftentimes, they simply follow the money or fads and lose their focus along the way, he noted.

In order to create a successful, sustainable business, Sivers said people should be focused on the basic business premise and not "diffuse their energies" on other aspects--whether these are fame, legacy or freedom. These distractions could cause entrepreneurs to end up with "deathbed regret", he cautioned.

Additionally, startups should look beyond "great ideas" and come up with products and services that "help make people's lives better", he said. "[An online or technology revolution] need not necessarily be about being disruptive or destroying industries," Sivers stated.

Recounting what helped put CD Baby on the global map, he pointed to the "little things" that struck a chord with consumers and helped establish the music retail Web site. For instance, he noted that simply picking up the phone was one of the top reasons why CD Baby was favored over its competitors, by both customers and musicians that sold their CDs on the platform.

"You don't put your friend through an automated answering machine when they call, so pick up the phone," Sivers suggested. "Your customers are your friends too." These small gestures "humanize" the relationship with customers and helps put a smile on their faces at the end of the day, he surmised.

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