@TES: Platform Game; The Debate Will Change; Monetization Of Social And Professional Networks

At the TiE Entrepreneurial Summit, Manu Rekhi, Product Manager at Google (NSDQ: GOOG) for Orkut gave away no secrets: Google did research in Brazil to figure out what worked for them, and in December 2005, did an experiment in India, because it was a similar market. That was an exponential success; initially the site was focused on 18-25 year olds, but has seen rapid growth for all age groups in the last six months. 95 percent of the people are only connecting offline friends. MTV is using their Roadies community, which has over 50,000 members, to get people for the show, make announcements and give freebies. They’re also using feedback to make changes to next weeks show…The Infosys community has over 60,000 users, as does Reliance. Connect these and alongwith user data, you get a social graph – this is the holy grail of marketing. You can build applications based on user profiles.

Rajesh Sawhney, President of Reliance Entertainment, mentioned some stats related to Big Adda, the groups social networking site: he said it adds 14,000 to 18,000 new users every day; photo uploads are upwards of a million. The marketing (they have a budget of $100 million), is making an impact – he believes people also want to wear their social network like a badge – a BIG brand. The debate around social networks has changed: in 2006, a leading VC told him that India is not ready for Web 2.0. The debate in 2008 will be – what’s different about your social network? I guess, in 2009, it might be about “Do you remember that social network that shut down or had to sell off?” :P

The game is now about build platforms, he said, though I’m not so sure, since Facebook has emerged as the de-facto social networking platform. Five of the top ten sites are social networks, and around 60 percent of Internet users (35 percent of them Asian) are using social networks, he said. Social networks will be monetized around advertising, and like we had the jingle for radio, the 30 second AV for TV, banners for portals – there will be an advertising standard for social networks.

Taking the platform theme forward, Rohit Agarwal, Founder of TechTribe believes that over the years, more models will come up around professional networking; more importantly, more business will learn to leverage professional networks; it’s going to fundamentally change the way people do business, with businesses being developed around connections and recruitment.

Kavita Iyer, CEO of MingleBox, mentioned that the content on Indian networks needs to be as per Indian sensitivity. About the business model: there’s a certain youth demographic whose engagement with the Internet is essentially going to increase, and the virality of the medium is not in question. MingleBox is focusing on building a college network; it persists even when you start working. At this stage, the fundamental goal is to have a very large user base…”by the time we’re ready for monetization, the world would have figured the business model”

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I was surprised that no one really spoke about the other means of monetizing a social network in India – through events. For any platform – publications, social networks, even forums – it’s often about developing a user base online or on TV, and then taking them offline. Forums/publications like the Rock Street Journal do it extensively in India, and Rolling Stone would have the same plan. HT Media is doing events, the TV18 group conducts workshops and seminars, as does Cybermedia. Social Networks have a similar opportunity – organize gigs and parties, and get youth brands involved. Professional networks can do seminars and workshops. Social networks currently appear to be using events for marketing, not monetization.