It is not about “Traffic”

originally posted in Concept Hub

I have participated in several strategy meetings related to building a successful social networking site. In those meetings there always seems to be the same common disconnect, which boils down to the purpose of having a social networking site.

I have heard ideas that to build a social networking community we need to drive traffic. The idea is that if we get X number of visitors to the site then Y number will add content.

I have heard that theory but when put into practice I have not seen it work. Why?

Again, it is about the purpose of the social networking site.

When the Internet became a common communication channel for businesses, websites were equivalent to billboards. The goal was to drive traffic, ideally relevant traffic that would respond with the appropriate action. So the equivalent is related to driving down I-75 on your way to Disney World and you see the sign that tells you to exit now for discount tickets.

That is what a website is, a billboard. We are driving around on the world wide web with a specific destination or purpose in mind and we are directed to the most relevant sites.

Social Networks are more like the local pub.

You jump online to socialize, to connect with your peers, to start or join a dialog. Sure you need to let people know that your local pub is there, but you need to do so in a much more strategic way than a billboard. This is not a mainstream restaurant like Chili’s, this is the local pub. People are not coming here for a meal, they are coming here to socialize.

So you attract people by starting with the people you know, those who care about you and those who like hanging out with you. You give them reasons to invite their friends. You join their other networks and learn what topics of conversation are hot and you create opportunities to explore those topics at your site.

After a while, your friend’s friends are inviting their friends to your site and you are tasked with tending the bar full time. People passing by join in because they want to know what all the hype is about. When they come to the site they find conversations, debates, and friends sharing stories.

Remember Facebook was started by one college kid connecting with just his circle of friends.

You will know your site is a success, not by how many people are passing by, or by how many people have contributed content, but by how many regulars that are hanging out and inviting their friends.

The point is websites will always have their place. Social networks should not replace the standard information and transactional website. Social networks have a different role in online communications, whether it is a B2C local pub or a B2B Exclusive club. Either way, you will not build your community by focusing only on getting traffic to the site.