Should companies and brands establish their own community networks or develop an area in an established social network like Facebook or LinkedIn?
Many pundits argue that own-brand networks truly push the limits of the long tail of social networks. They can work if there is a critical mass of Mini owners or Disney fanatics to support these niche interests.
By launching their own community sites, brand can neglect the social aspects of Web 2.0: a branded network can limit discussion and
stunt the word-of-mouse factor.
So you can argue that it makes much more sense for companies to have branded environments within a Facebook, MySpace or, even better, a social network that focuses on their vertical market such as a Mini environment within an automotive network like CarSpace.
Companies may have to have multiple branded environments. For instance, Pepsi could have one in BlockSavvy for the urban market (instead of their Youniverse-powered community?) and another in MySpace that associates the brand with music and entertainment.
It’s useful, here, to distinguish between a community – a group of people that probably don’t know each other but share a common interest –
and a social network – a network of links between people who actually know each other.
The vertical social networks and the big general-purpose social sites perhaps need to start designing and offering environments with the tools and features that companies like BMW and Disney need to build interactive communities.
Brands will want a certain level of customisation and control. Neither MySpace nor Facebook currently offer enough of either which is one of the primary reasons that companies and brands start their own community sites.
From an SEO point of view, the major social networking sites offer an almost instant visibility to search engines. A community site would take time to register and trigger a regular search engine crawl.