Social networking websites have gained momentum the past couple of years. The rise in popularity of such sites enable users to personalize their own space and at the same time connect with acquaintances, friends and family or meet new people with same backgrounds or interests. This virtual grouping of people does not just provide a social network to the users. Because it is based on common grounds of people, their similarities and their connections, it is also a vital tool for marketing as it gives a very effective method of categorizing a group of potential customers for certain products and services.

In order to study the social networks created in such sites, analysis of ten different people are made. These people are all connected directly or indirectly through me as part of my personal network. Although some do not know each other and are of different demographics, it is seen that such connection to a common person (me) also involves some sort of commonalities. These direct and indirect commonalities provide a way or method for a more extensive market analysis for marketers working out which target audience would benefit a particular product or service.

Although ten people cannot give an extensive market research analysis, the ten people mentioned will be able to give a sample of how different people, provided some common demographic, have similarities in their priorities and current lifestyles. The first person, “A”, is a 19-year old male uni student at the University of Adelaide, majoring in Accounting. Currently, he is living near the city in Unley. He is a schoolmate of my friend who introduced us a few years back and is part of my main group of friends. In this group of friends, there are about 9 people including me and him.

Another person in this group shall be analyzed later as part of this research. “A” is a Catholic and practices regularly. He is also in a relationship of about 8 months with a girl also part of this analysis. As such, his site currently has heaps of pictures of his girlfriend as well as his church mates. Most of the comments in his site are not serious and resembles that of his age concerning friends and outings. There are a few posts regarding concerts and events happening in the city but no particular inclination with regards to products. Person “B” is an 18-year old female uni student majoring also in Accounting.

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She is the girlfriend of “A” and is currently living in a suburb of Adelaide near Port Adelaide. She is from the same school as “A”. She is also a Catholic like “A” and have a few friends and church mates but are not included in this study. Her site consists mainly of images of her girl friends and social gatherings such as outings and parties. It also contains discussions on the latest trends in fashion such as those they have bought in malls such as Myer or shops such as Country Road. It also includes rants and reviews on various restaurants that she and her friends frequent.

Person “C” is a 22-year old male who is currently taking a break from study and is working part time at Dick Smiths in the city. He lives near the city in North Adelaide. He is in the main group of friends mentioned earlier concerning “A” and was introduced by me to “A”. “C” is currently single and of no professed religion. As such, his site differs from “A” in that it includes mostly pictures of inanimate objects. He is an amateur photographer and most images are taken from his camera. There are no posts regarding products or issues.

But, like “A,” there are posts regarding social gatherings and outings with his group of friends as well as concerts and events that are popular among our group of friends. As seen here, even though “A” and “C” are of different situations, there are commonalities they share that are reflected in their sites. Person “D” comes from a different circle of mine. She is a neighbor, aged 35, married with two kids and lives near the city in Goodwood. Her site is very different from the others mentioned in that it contains less posts and more pictures of her children and her family.

Most comments on her site are about her family and her children. There are limited occurrences of posts regarding social issues but they are present. Likewise, there is an abundance of comments regarding her work and her husband’s work. However, these do not extend to a societal concern. This is the case with some complains and voiced concerns about how the current economy is affecting their everyday lives. Person “E” is another neighbor. He is a 40-year old man working in the city as an electrician. He is not married but with child.

His site has a limited number of pictures, mainly of his son. His site also includes some posts regarding his child although this is not as much as those regarding his work life and how hard it is becoming to make a living. There are also some comments regarding his friends at his work place, their plans and outings similar to those of “A” and “C”. This may be attributed to having the same taste in concerts and gigs and pubs across the city. Person “D” and “E”, both being in a similar age bracket and both working parents, have similar comments regarding the current crises.

Mainly, these comments do not go beyond their own lives and how they are affected by pay cuts and people being let go. This may also be due to having lived in close proximity to each other and therefore are influenced by the same difficulties experienced in the city. Person “F” is a friend who has now moved on to another city. He is 23 years of age and now lives in Melbourne. He moved before going to uni and is now a part time uni student and works part time at Woolworths. He is currently in a relationship. He comes from a migrant family and of Indian ethnicity.

His site contains many images both of his girlfriend, his schoolmates and co-workers and his family. Comments regarding his family and school are abundant although none take a very serious note. Mostly, these comments are about what happened in school or a get-together of the family. There is also a fair share of comments regarding footy among his peers and local hangout places. Person “G” is the sister of “F”. She was a schoolmate of mine in Year 12. She is also living in Melbourne with his brother and is now a uni student as well in Swinburne. She is currently single and most pictures show her group of friends.

However, there are also some pictures of family. Like his brother, most comments are those from school or family although none involve heavy discussions regarding deep problems or those involving the greater society. There are some rants regarding cheap products or services among her girl friends and school friends. As seen, “G” and “B” although of different location and ethnicity are both young females. Both resulted with sites having small discussions regarding fashion and food which tells that people of these demographic may be inclined to such things.

Person “H” is a professor of mine in Flinders Uni, 56 years of age and currently resides along Military Road. She is married with 3 children and of Protestant religion. Her site is heavily influenced by her religion and profession. There are almost no sign of pictures regarding products and services. Mainly, her contacts are those from Church or her faculty and peers. As such, most comments are regarding problems seen in her community, in her church and some of society and how bad it is becoming. There are also some regarding events but mainly of an academic nature.

Person “I” is another professor of mine in Flinders University. She is 43 years old and currently resides near Marion. She is single and of no professed religion. Her site contains pictures of her family (siblings, parents, cousins) and is mostly family-based. There are some comments regarding her work but most comments are those regarding her family and some movies or events they are interested in. There is also a fair bit regarding good places to eat at and some products they have bought especially books in places like Dymocks or Borders. However, a fair bit of such books are also of academic and political nature.

As seen in “H” and “I”, both teachers although of different background, share some common ground in the type of discussion that occurs in their site. This is a great help to marketers who are looking for the academic sort of audience. Person “J” is a 26 year old male worker at a local deli shop. He is someone I met at a local gym. He is a typical Australian male living near Aberfoyle. He is currently single and of no professed faith. However, he has the most number of contacts among the ten people analyzed. He has a number of circles of friends and acquaintances.

He has heaps of pictures of his friends and parties as well as those of the opposite sex. Most comments are about social happenings and similar interests such as sports (footy), bands and local gigs, bars and pubs. There is no direct bias towards some products or services. Although “J” and “F” have never seen each other, it is quite interesting how similar the categories of comments present in their site, especially regarding their interests. Likewise, “A” and “C” have commonalities with “J” as well such as the pictures present in their sites as well as the concentration of friends in their contacts.

This may be attributed to the similarities in age and upbringing growing up in the same city and with the same culture. These profiles show how diverse people who use social networking services are. Although majority of the users seem to be from the younger generation, there are also those who come from the older generation. This is due to the fact that these older people do not see these sites as somewhere they can promote themselves but they decide to become members because they want to reconnect with old friends and get in touch with family members who are far from their reach.

Old or young, however, these people join social networking sites to share information and personal content with their contacts. A person or group can have thousands of contacts who can view his or her posts and can send him or her a message any time they want to. There is no doubt that social networking services is one of the best ways to market a product or service nowadays. This is where most people spend their time on when going online. However, companies have to be careful because “marketing on these sites can be tricky because the online community at social networking sites hates overt commercial messages” (Scott , 2007: 229).

It is important, therefore, for companies to know the effective strategies that they can do to promote their products and at the same time, make it appealing to the members and not become one of those “annoying, unwanted ads” that everyone hate. “Businesses are beginning to use social networks as a means to help employees connect, or customers to obtain information or help” (Xu, Tjoa & Chaudhry, 2008: 848). One of the ways that companies market their products through online networking services is through viral marketing.

This is done through posting blogs (or online journals), sending messages, or posting announcements in one’s personal page, which will most likely be read by a person’s contacts. The effect it would bring depends on how many people an individual is connected to, which is why marketers target those who have hundreds or thousands of contacts. Companies can also hire professional people who can pretend to be teenagers who can influence the decision of other “teens” like him or her (Ames & Spetner, 2007: 233).

The diversity of people who use social networking services is of high importance. Instead of being limited to making connections with people in one field or in a local area, business owners and employees can find like-minded people in different fields all over the world to build business-centered relationships with” (Farkas, 2007: 116). If a product is unsellable to a certain group of people, the company would not have to worry because there will be others who will find interest in their service, which will not make the advertising fees and efforts be put to waste. It is the number of people and the types of people that a company can reach through these sites that are important.

Although companies have the freedom to advertise in these websites, they have to realize that not all audiences are young people, As mentioned above, there is also a significant number of older adults who use social networking services to communicate with their friends and family. As such, companies should also advertise products that can benefit the older users and make it in such a way that the advertisements do not become annoying and inappropriate, which will make people ignore them. No company wants to waste money on advertisements that will just be ignored by everyone.

Companies should remember to make their marketing strategies relevant to the users and updated. It appears that social networking sites are here to stay at this time. Here, people can get creative while sharing their activities with others without needing any physical interaction. The power that the Internet can give people is addicting. With these being said, marketers and companies need to take advantage of these facts and try to come up with new ideas and trends that will appeal to online users who are of different background, age, gender, and preferences.

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