If social networks were a fashion item, they would be the must have marketing accessory this season! The success of sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Digg have prompted brand caretakers to explore creating social networks around their brands or product categories. The idea is that if people are interested in meeting others with similar interests as shown by the millions of visitors to the top social networking sites, then there might be commercial applications for social networks for relationship building and maintenance. I would say there is commercial potential... for some brands.
Creating a social network just because others do it is no more logical than advertising because your competitors do it or lowering your price to match your competitors' price. A brand has to matter to customers in the first place before they would consider investing time and emotions in a social network. An example of a brand that has the foundation for building a social network is GM's Saturn. The brand recently launched its own social network, ImSaturn. Saturn has had a legion of devoted customers since its inception in the early 1990s. Saturn owners are somewhat like Apple Mac users: not the largest customer group in the industry but very loyal to the brand. In three weeks, more than 1,200 people joined ImSaturn (including yours truly, an owner of two Saturns). This initial response exceeded the goal of having 1,000 members during the first six months.
It's all about relevance- creating a social network cannot make your brand relevant. The brand must already be perceived as credible and its promises delivered to the target market. A social network is a way to bring together people with similar feelings toward a brand and even draw in people from their personal networks. With those capabilities, social networks are not likely to go out of style anytime soon!
Link: Response Magazine "Saturn Creates Its Own Social Networks"