Sunday, 19 April 2009

BMW launch social network (in China) - another example of niche, high end social communities

The fastest growing user demographics for Facebook are in the higher age ranges and social networking is quickly becoming more than just a past-time for youth - especially with the growth of niche social networks around particular themes or communities.

Self service social networking platform Ning is one of the fastest growing sites on the web, whilst the proliferation of social networking can be seen from the social network for dentists to the 401,000 electricians posting on the Talk ScrewFix forum to sites like Ravelry, a social network for knitting and crochet. (*edit - I think that should read '401,000 electricians messages')

Dentist social - the dedicated network for dental practitioners

Ravelry knitting social networkRavelry - a social network for knitting

We are also seeing the development of niche, high-end / luxury communities. In 2008 the FT launched it's luxury, Executive forum and since then others have been experimenting with exclusive communities. US site is a good example of this - launched last September, Affluence boasts 20,000 members and to join you have to prove that you have a net worth of £2m and an annual income of £214,000. - social network for the super rich

Described as a 'virtual country club', Affluence contains blogs, a lifestyle guide and lots of advertising for private jets and luxury goods.

Brands are also turning into platform providers and using SNS principles to further consumer engagement and loyalty. In China BMW has launched an exclusive social network for its drivers at There are 150,000 BMW drivers in China and the site aims to connect drivers, offer advice and allow users to share their experiences with both BMW and other BMW users.

BMW social network English homepageBMW China social network English homepage (click for larger image)

The BMW Chinese social network was promoted through a luxury mail out to every known BMW driver in China. Users can create profiles, upload images and watch videos, with BMW experts and staff also accessible through the site. (source: BrandRepublic Asia)

BMW social network Chinese homepageBMW China social network Chinese Homepage (click for larger image)

Whilst Facebook has extremely high penetration in some countries (eg 46% of the population of Iceland have an account), in some of the world's largest countries (especially in BRIC markets) Facebook penetration is low. China has the lowest Facebook users per head of population figure as local players dominate:

China social network sceneChina social network scene - from Nielsen Global Faces and Networked places report

The dominance of local players in China's social networking scene means that BMW would have to create a bespoke solution if they wanted to build a community on an existing Chinese social platform. Therefore BMW creating their own social network site in China seems to make a lot of sense - whilst BMW have declared no intention of taking this outside China, having a proprietary solution will make it easier to follow this route later.

Interesting to see how this turns out, and with Land Rover now using Twitter hash tags in their advertising, it could be that we are about to see an explosion in high end brands properly incorporating social thinking into their marketing efforts?

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