The world of social media is still dominated by powerhouse platforms and many competitors are attempting to replicate those sites’ successes. Despite the apparent monopoly, hundreds have popped up over the years and many of them carry enough weight to be considered valid for the social media marketer. However, judging this multitude of sites is difficult, if for no other reason than determining variables that can easily apply to the full gamut of social platforms. Regardless, I have tackled the challenge and come up with general criteria that should define any social site from the marketer’s point of view.
I am staring at the Jacksonville, Florida skyline. The sky is a beautiful azure and the soft light of the sun is reflecting in the mirror-like windows blanketing the towers of commerce. Only the lightest of clouds are visible and my mind is quiet, filled with only one thought:
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Of course, it is LivingSocial.com that is presenting me with this vista, not the northern beaches of Florida. At first glance the site – combining the aesthetic minimalism of Google with the vivid backgrounds of Microsoft Bing – appears to be little more than a clone of the controversial buy-in site Groupon. However, LivingSocial does do things differently than other sites, but are these things necessarily improvements?
First, some background. LivingSocial.com is a social buying website, offering daily deals that can be as much as 90% off. It was launched in 2007, and has been available in 89 markets since 2010. Like Groupon, LivingSocial uses witty, often tongue-in-cheek language to stand out from the often overly-politically-correct marketing landscape. The deals are catered to the individual, featuring local businesses based on information provided by the user. LivingSocial’s social aspect is almost entirely based in its piggybacking with Facebook. The site’s main motivation for social interaction is actually dependent on it (more on that later).
This brings me to the first major question for judging social networks. How broad is the platform’s audience and who is using it? According to LivingSocial’s published data, it is exactly who you would assume. LivingSocial’s users are mostly women, and typically fall in the middle class. As a result, most of the recent offers on the site include spa treatments, laser-hair removal and liposuction. The sales page that potential customers see provides examples that range from sushi to skydiving, but almost all of the daily ads I have seen over the past weeks have been targeted squarely at middle-aged moms.
Does the site have a stable, growing user population? LivingSocial has been going strong for almost four years. The site’s sales promotions use vague language, stating only that “thousands of excited readers will open their email to read about your offering…” Though they do not provide any specific numbers when it comes to users, the company did just receive a $175 million investment from Amazon.com, which speaks volumes about its staying power.
My third criterion asks whether or not the platform provides motivation for a user to visit and to share information. Each day on LivingSocial, users are presented with an offer, most of which boil down to “Buy a $40 gift card for $20.” LivingSocial takes 50% of that $20, and the rest goes to the business. Everyone wins. To get the most out of the platform, users must log in with or connect their Facebook account. They will now have the option to share a daily deal they have purchased with their Facebook friends. If three of their friends follow their link to purchase the deal, the original user gets it for free. In a best-case scenario, you can end up with hundreds of dollars in free services, and your friends still save money on things they would buy anyway. The site also includes recommended local businesses as well, making it a one-stop-shop, combining the best of Groupon, Yelp, and Google Places. With no subscription fees or up-front costs, I can easily recommend the site for personal use. For marketers, however, the site offers very little worth noting.
Finally, the potential the site has for a social marketer to create growth with any given company. LivingSocial’s largest downside, from a marketer’s viewpoint, is the lack of an internal social network. Any communication between users is done on Facebook. Sharing is done on Facebook. The entire site can — and does — function entirely confined within a Facebook or smartphone app. There is no real reason to even visit the main site after setting up your account (which again, you can do through Facebook).
Here is the simple truth of it all. A client could set up a LivingSocial offer allowing their customers to purchase $40 of product for $20. In that case, they lose $30 on each sale, and the offer only goes to people that happen to check LivingSocial during the 24 hours the sale is available. Alternatively, a smart marketer could put the same offer up on the client’s Facebook page. Now, the client is only out $20, and the offer goes out to the client’s 500 Facebook friends (and anyone else that wanders by). LivingSocial has a lot to offer for small businesses, or for people looking to save money around town, but marketers will find nothing here that isn’t done better elsewhere.
Tim Howell is a content manager for Make Me Social. He studied fine art, psychology, and international pop culture at Bowling Green State University. In his spare time, he is a blogger, bartender, and social activist with a passion for cooking.