I am a big believer in the potential of social networks. I think that social networks are a new medium that companies need to embrace. But, Walmart went too far in trying to build one.

Today Walmart closed MyHub, their attempt at building a social network after 10 weeks. As far as I know, this hasn’t been a surprise to anybody outside the firm.

Surely, freedom to express one’s passion is one of the key factors behind the success of a social network. Ultimately social networks are a means for individuals to share their passions with other like-minded people. Birds of a feather will flock togethe. Cat lovers should run to Catster, Goths to vampirefreaks. There are dozens of niche social networks emerging – I need to build a directory soon.

So, what is the passion that Walmart represents? Saving money? Buying great clothes (as MyHub implied)? I can’t think of the emotional reason for someone to congregate around the Walmart brand. Worse, Walmart actively censored content thus curtailing self expression.

I doubt there are any non-media brands that can pull off building a social network. Maybe Apple? Maybe a leading cosmetics brand can build a social network where women share health and beauty tips? Maybe a sports car company like Lotus with the hope of stimulating discussion about their car performance and track days to race them?

The challenge is to attract people that will contribute enough content (the much lauded user generated content (UGC)) to cause members to keep returning to the social network.

I exclude media companies/brands because they naturally pack emotion. MTV, E!, SkySports, Cosmopolitan, Rolling Stone; all these titles stand for something and already inspire some user generated content in the form of letters to the editors.

Perhaps, Walmart was aware of this lack of passion which is the only explanation behind them creating four fake stereotype profiles to see the network.

Learnings from the closure of MyHub

1. Foment a passion: identify the passion of a particular customer group and use the social network to enable those people to meet, discuss and share ideas.

2. Don’t meddle: act as a master of ceremony not a head teacher. Let members express themselves; let them decide what is appropriate and not appropriate. Only step in to mediate or ban a member if called upon to do so by the members. Editing member’s content will kill the network. Member’s will stop contributing content.

3. Don’t fake it: let users populate the soclal network. Putting up fake profiles is very lame.

4. Give it time: social networks can’t spring-up in a matter of weeks.

Prediction: Over the next year we will see the membership and number of niche social networks grow significantly and see the widespread launch of social networks backed by media companies/brands.

tags: social network Walmart