In recent days, I have followed a few discussions at different forums, debating the possibilities or the lack of it, for monetizing Social Media. There has been an extended discussion on the Web 2.0 group at LinkedIn. Then there was the post by Robert Scoble, and there have been others too.
At the end of the churn, the jury remains out still. No clear answers, and anyone who emerges with a brand new monetization model will be hailed like Google was hailed for creating revenues out of search!
I posted a comment at the post of Robert Scoble, which was somewhat inspired, in as much as it related Social Networking to offline Social Clubs (known by different names in different communities), and seeing if a parallel could emerge there. I am reproducing part of that comment here:
1. We are looking currently at known methods of monetization. The answer will more likely emerge from methods that are unknown today. The monetization of search that Google did, was a thought out of the box. Amazon Cloud Computing is also a different direction from known methods. Twitter and others may also discover a model which will only become a new method and a new standard, thereafter.
2. I try to relate web models with similar offline businesses / models. The social media online is most similar to a social club offline. My understanding of these clubs are:
a. They are cheap – which is how large numbers find it easy to congregate there,
b. There are few expensive and more exclusive types, but they offer significant value in terms of ambience, luxury and services, and for which the elite are willing to pay the price,
c. Social clubs do not meet out their costs, from the members’ contributions; there have to be other ways to supplement their incomes,
d. What they end up doing is to run a good restaurant and give out the contract for the same, to someone who pays them a good chunk of money; or they give out the space that they have built, every once in a while, for others to use as a banquet location; or they charge a decent sum for a one time membership fee, which is usually a lifetime fee then.
Mapping some of these observations to the online social media, it might indicate that:
a. Social media sites will not be able to charge the members, especially if they are going after the mass markets,
b. A few exclusive ones, with seriously high value added offerings, might manage to keep exclusive usage, and charge a good fee for the same,
c. The typical social media property, might be able to contract their platform to the “restaurant” (some paid service equivalent, that is reasonably universally required by the users), and charge them a good fee for giving that exclusive access, for the particular vertical (“food” in case of the offline restaurants); such engagements can be for a period of time, just like the restaurant contract in an offline social club would be say, for a period of 2 years at a time,
d. Then there is the equivalent of the social club giving out its space for a one-day banquet event. The analogy here could be banner advertising on all Twitter screens, for example.
e. Finally there is the one-time fee from members, that a social club can charge. I am not sure if the analogy can be pulled off on the online social networks. But seeing that users spend $1 to send virtual gifts on Facebook, there could be an option to ask members to pay say, $10 (or $50 or whatever that makes sense) as a one-time fee for being members at Twitter. I am not sure, but its an idea again..
As I said earlier, the jury is still out. Whether Social Networking can be monetized and to what extent remains in the realm of inquiry at this time.