What Will Social Networking Displace?

Just a couple of years ago, many people were still debating whether digital social networking was just a flash in the pan. With social media growth surging, that that debate is over. People have moved on to try and figure out where social networking is headed—as evidenced when I Googled the “future of social networking” and got 542,000 results.

Now of course I didn’t read all of them, but a couple of very high-level themes surfaced across the ones I did read. First, a combination of factors, including the generational shift, rise of cloud computing, and the increasingly mobile and decentralized nature of both our personal and professional lives will make social networking ubiquitous. Second, several major issues need to be solved for social networking to live up to it’s full potential.

Some are technology-centric, such the need for open standards to make it easier for us to manage and share our contacts, profile information, permissions, etc. across and between multiple different social networks, or better integration of contextual information, or better options for protecting privacy. But, as important, on the business side, there appears to be almost universal agreement that social network operators will need  to figure out how to create sustainable, profitable business models.

Which led me to start thinking and talking to people about how social networking could replace stuff that we already pay for. After all, social networking platforms are much more user-friendly than most traditional software applications out there.

Here are some of the ideas that cropped up about things businesses and consumers spend money on today, that social networking could replace and monetize:

  • Media distribution, management and monitoring, ala Businesswire or Marketwire.
  • Email, instead of using Outlook, Gmail, etc.
  • Corporate collaboration platforms, such as Microsoft SharePoint and Exchange.
  • Marketplaces—from online dating sites to job boards to eBay. LinkedIn has had a job postings site for quite some time.
  • Email marketing.
  • Local newspapers (check out Yelp).

Not everyone will buy into social media right away, and it may take a while for it to become truly “ubiquitous”. But, social networking will continue reshape how we communicate, interact and transact business, and social networking vendors will find ways to monetize their work. The question isn’t if, but when and what social networking will displace. I’m sure there are many other possibilities, and would love to know what you think.

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