What is a social network? According to Wikipedia, it is a structure made up of a group connected by friendship, kinship, or common interests. However, when we talk about social networks today, these key names comes to mind: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and in Spain, Tuenti. Are these the only important contemporary social networks? Or is our view just so obscured by these online sociability giants that we are not able to envision others?
Social networks existed before the emergence of the web. By now, however, thanks to entrepreneurs such as Mark Zuckerberg, the concept has achieved an unimaginable scope. Even on the web, though, in the early stages, there were other communities that promoted collaboration and information exchange, and many of those platforms are still active.
What are online users looking for?
The first online communities were the BBSs. Created by the end of the 70s, these bulletin board systems were forums where users could ask questions to be addressed by other users. Thus was born an important driver of the web’s success today: user- generated content.
Suppose you want to buy a car. Of course, you can go to the web page of your favorite brand and research the characteristics of each available model. But how do you get objective and straightforward information that tells you exactly which car is right for your needs? For this, there is nothing better than the words of other users who know about the product. And for this, the web gives us endless possibilities, for example, ForoCoches, with more than 480,000 postings per week, the most active forum in Spain and fifth worldwide.
User-generated content is based on trust and a community’s collective value judgment. Sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor continue to be successful because of this kind of communication that allows users to access advice from their peers rather than advertising content that is not always trustworthy.
Forums were born long before the web 2.0 platforms we use today. Some, such as GeekVillage, have been around for more than a decade and are still extremely active. These platforms do not always offer the usability or friendliness of new web applications, but they are still visited by millions of users. What is their secret?
The answer is twofold. First, the forums are maintained for specific ends, as opposed to social networks like Facebook or Twitter, where in general a user can post anything at all. Forums are organized by theme and have specific sections that facilitate an information search. A mobile communications forum such as GSM Spain, for example, has content organized according to device manufactures and telephone service provider.
The second factor that maintains forum success is their question-answer structure. In general, the user with doubts about a product, service, or how to solve a problem sends a question to the community for an answer. For example, if you search on Google Spain, “Which is the best antivirus for Windows 7?” the first response will be from one of the Kioskea.net forums. What does this mean? Simply that many of us ask ourselves similar questions. This is one of the reasons why forums keep attracting thousands of users.
An opportunity for advertisers
The forums also constitute a huge marketing opportunity. Of course, social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube are inevitable options today for positioning a product or service in the online universe. But forums, apparently rather old-fashioned, are still very attractive for Internet users.
Above all, forums offer advertisers access to a specific audience that is looking for information about a specific theme that can be related to an offer. Forums present the opportunity to engage a user at the right time: when he or she is looking for information about what the market has to offer. A right understanding of this area and of the key networks for each type of audience can be fundamental to the success of an online marketing campaign.