Social networks reevaluate boundaries

The Twitter rumor mill started churning during SXSW Interactive after ReadWriteWeb posted that Google was set to launch a new social network called Circles at the conference.

The Twitter rumor mill started churning during SXSW Interactive after ReadWriteWeb posted that Google was set to launch a new social network called Circles at the conference. 

During an event marked by few major announcements, this one would be big. 

Google quickly denied any plans for a launch at SXSW, but that didn't stop the speculation and excitement.  ReadWriteWeb sources say Circles will offer photo, video, and status message sharing.

And perhaps most importantly, sources told ReadWriteWeb that users will share only with the most appropriate circle of social contacts in their lives, respecting the same boundaries they establish offline. Reportedly, Google's solution is far more sophisticated than Facebook's public/private settings and will take the context of users' various relationships into account.

At the time of posting, we're still waiting to hear if Google Circles is a soon-to-be reality – it could potentially launch at Google's I/O conference in May – or a SXSW myth. Either way, it's an interesting concept, particularly in light of other SXSW launches that make it faster and easier to talk to large groups of people at once and, in some cases, complete strangers.

Three new “group messaging” apps, Beluga, which was recently acquired by Facebook, GroupMe, and FastSociety, have people buzzing at SXSW. These free services let people create “groups” and broadcast messages to stay connected on the go. 

Far more open are apps like Yobongo and Ask Around, which use location-based data to bring complete strangers together in a group chat. Yobongo aims to help users meet people in their local area, while Ask Around is geared toward helping people find answers to questions that people in the immediate area can best answer.

The introduction of new social networking applications along this continuum of private versus open is an interesting trend to watch.

It suggests that people are reevaluating the boundaries they establish for online communication, sharing, and relationships, and brands should take notice. 

As consumers redefine their social circles online and what is acceptable in each, where will brands fall? How will brands earn the right to be part of their most inner circles? I suspect it will come down to three basic principles: authenticity, relevance, and value. Brands that commit to these principles in their actions and their online communications are poised to capture consumer attention, engagement, and long-term loyalty.

Brooke Hovey is SVP of digital and MD of Cohn & Wolfe's Austin office. 

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