They allow anyone to establish their own branded social network at little or no cost. Most include features such as personal profiles, blogs, forums, newsfeeds, photo and video libraries, live chat, email lists, calendars as well as widget markets (with custom features you can add) and more - much more.
These services have made it incredibly easy to set-up and manage social networks. In fact you can have one branded and live within five minutes for less than it costs for a coffee per day.
But is this a good thing?
I wonder sometimes if it has simply become too easy.
Successful social networks need a purpose and regular nurturing (particularly in their infancy). Given how easy it is to now set them up, are there many that were established without a clear purpose or need?
And do organisations have the skills and experience to manage successful social networks. Sure everyone HAS personal experience through a social network of their own but, as anyone moving to a new city appreciates, it takes time and effort to turn strangers into friends - even virtual ones.
I'd like to think that organisations largely follow a strategic approach. In this case they'd start by defining their goals, identifying their audience and seeking existing communities to engage with before considering establishing a new one.
They would then employ the right tools and tactics, deploying the correct functionality and nurturing their social network until it was capable of standing on its own feet.
If you are going about community building - social network building - in this way, let me know.
If you are new to the area and want to know what's out there, I've included a list of some of the white label social network providers below. I haven't provided a review of the services, as I've not used all of them however I have seen good executions of Elgg, Ning, Groupsite and SocialText.
- Social Network Server