Brand Health Check: Friends Reunited
The trailblazing social network is relaunching with a focus on nostalgia.
Friends Reunited: new owners
Friends Reunited was the original social network. Launched in July 2000 by couple Steve and Julie Pankhurst, the UK site was credited with fuelling the craze for old friends looking each other up and reconnecting.
Then along came Facebook. Suddenly, Friends Reunited's basic free service and £5 all-access fee looked a bit pricey for what users got compared with the free Facebook network. Its popularity started to dwindle as Facebook enjoyed a meteoric rise.
The site's troubles can be plotted alongside its ownership. In December 2005, Friends Reunited, with 15m users, was acquired by ITV for the sum of £175m. Four years later it was sold off to Brightsolid for just £25m. Last year, Brightsolid's parent company, DC Thomson, estimated that Friends Reunited's intangible assets were worth only £5.2m.
Critics tethered its decline to ITV's failure to innovate and invest in the platform. Brightsolid can't be accused of the same neglect, however. The site's latest relaunch repositions Friends Reunited as a place for users to celebrate memories.
As part of the changes, it will provide archive material to which users and brands can add their own content in a 'scrapbooking' format, to collectively share their past, with 'straightforward privacy' at the heart.
According to comScore data for February, the Friends Reunited Group sites, including genealogy site Genes Reunited, attracted 1m unique visitors, which is a 15.6% decline compared with the same period last year.
So is there space for Friends Reunited to claw its way back, or is its memories proposition too similar to Facebook's Timeline? Is it now a digital relic?
We asked Paul Evans, head of media at Xbox, which has developed its own online community through Xbox Live, and Toby Gunton, chief digital officer at WCRS.
PAUL EVANS, HEAD OF MEDIA, XBOX
Friends Reunited was an innovator - the original subscription-based UK online community destination. However, that competitive advantage has been eroded over time as stronger, richer networking platforms delivered greater sociability and connectivity for free and achieved greater global scale.
Now its latest owner, Brightsolid, is reintroducing Friends Reunited to the UK market. It has a fresh proposition as the place to share memories, as well as championing greater simplicity and control of privacy settings for its users, something it feels will deliver enhanced trust and value to its target user base.
- Delicious (the service that allows users to bookmark and share web pages) was later to market than rival Backflip, but proved more successful. The difference was that Backflip had a greater focus on privacy and personal value; for Delicious, socialisation was built in as default.
- Friends Reunited risks 'doing a Backflip'. It needs to ensure that its pursuit of a privacy agenda does not override its delivery of a truly social and open user experience.
- Strongly differentiated social platforms such as Pinterest (visual imagery), Path (mobile), and Draw Something (gaming) are gaining significant traction by exploiting Facebook weaknesses.
- It will be key for Friends Reunited to re-evaluate and define a social space within which it can defensibly operate and grow. Could the site offer a social-media and community experience to an older, lifestyle user base, for example?
TOBY GUNTON, CHIEF DIGITAL OFFICER, WCRS
Friends Reunited is the long-forgotten darling of social media, from before we knew what social media was. Its demise started the day it added a paywall.
While others were introducing free social services, it was pulling down the shutters and charging £7.50 a month to get in. As Facebook and others innovated, Friends Reunited largely stood still. Before long it was looking quaint, clunky and, let's not forget, ugly.
In 2005 ITV took ownership, but any thought that life could be breathed back into this ageing web star was soon fading as numbers continued to drop and the expected cross-promotion failed to materialise. Finding old schoolfriends was one thing; staying connected with them was another, and Facebook had cornered the market.
Now it's making a comeback based on memories and understandable privacy settings. It doesn't sound like a magic formula and the brand is tainted by a fading and increasingly irrelevant past. It's going to be hard to resuscitate.
- Focus on that 'slightly too old for Facebook' audience. There's clearly a market for niche social networks and the focus on memories might just work for the right audience.
- Create social tools that let you save memories in ways other services don't. Networks that allow users to express who they are via imagery are growing rapidly. Play to this. That means innovating, not buying rights to impersonal archive photos.
- Don't try to be Facebook - not even a little. Integrate with it, add something valuable to the Facebook experience, just don't try to be Facebook.
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk
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