How can you tell if a new social networking site is going to be the next Facebook or if it is going to fade into obscurity? Or worse what if it is just a way for people to get access to your contacts and their details?
We recently received an email from someone who works at a new start-up and was looking for help in hiring new employees. Directly.me is a networking site for professionals, but before you start comparing it to LinkedIn there is one key difference – you have to pay to talk to anyone you don’t directly know. When we got this email we started wondering if this was a legitimate new social networking website or just a way for this company to gain access to your contacts. As it is going to launch in a couple of days we decided to check it out and let you know what we think.
The website works in a way similar to other social networks. You have your contacts and connections, creating a network of people you know on the site. However everyone you know does not have to be a member of the site to be contacted by people through the site. One person pays a fee to send a message to someone outside their network. If you know the person they want to contact you can let them know that someone has a message for them. If this person reads the message you will get a proportion of the fee (40%) while the person reading the message will get most of the rest (50%). Obviously the site gets the final 10%.
Even if the person someone on the site wants to contact are not members of the site themselves they can still be contacted. By offering a reward you can get anyone who knows the desired person can pass on the message and earn the reward, as long as they actually read it. For example, Bob wants to talk to Dave about a new business venture. If Dave is on the site he can post the minimum fee he wants to read your message or allow members to offer a price and Bob can pay it to send his message to him. If you know Dave you can let him know that someone wants to send him a message. If Dave isn’t on the site, Bob can offer a reward to other members to pass on the message, so if you know him you can earn the reward by passing on the message, as long as he reads it.
The aim here is to ensure that only people who are serious about contacting someone can do so. There will be less spam and frivolous messages if you have to pay to talk to someone outside your network.
While the stated aim of the site is clear, there are some aspects of it that make me wonder how genuine it really is.
Once you join the website you are asked to consolidate all your contacts from other social network sites and “protect” them. While other sites often offer to find friends or other people you know based on contact lists from your phone or email, this site forces you to use all the contacts from your other accounts. You cannot pick and choose who you want to give Directly.me access to. There is no way to find people you know without providing Directly.me with your contacts from other sites. This suggests that they are less concerned with facilitating communication than gaining a large database of contacts from members.
You are encouraged to protect your contacts before your friends so that if someone wants to contact them you will be more likely to get paid, as you will be informed when someone wants to get in touch with them first. There is a sense of competition between you and your friends in order to get the most benefits and earn the most money. This isn’t the way that most social networking sites work; they usually encourage interaction and sharing of information and content. While this can be useful for getting members to pass along your message, it suggests that they are not trying to create community feel to the site, as people are only helping you get in touch with people they know for the financial reward.
One of the main features of the site that makes me suspicious is not in how the site actually works once you are a member, but the fact that you need to sign up for the site, or log in via other social media accounts, in order to see a lot of the information about how the site works. You cannot read the FAQ, find out about protected contacts or rewards before you do this. For most new social networking the more information you can give potential members the better. The more information they have about the site the more likely they will be to sign up. But that is not what Directly.me are doing. They are making it difficult to get all the information you want about the site. This suggests, whether fairly or not, that there is information that they don’t want you to know before you become a member.
I also have some reservations about how well this site will work for creating interactions and building viable business connections.
Given the nature of the site, people may only be helping others for the financial rewards. Members could end up asking people they know to read messages just so that they get the reward without them having any real intention of making contact or replying to the proposition or request at all. This could potentially undermine the whole premise of the site. If paying to get in contact with someone is not getting significantly better results than free services such as LinkedIn or just emailing the company there is no point in the website.
There is also the risk that members could be annoying non-members with messages, paid for or not. If people are not members of social networking sites, it is usually because they do not want to e part of it. With this site you may still be forced to participate to a certain extent. Just because someone you know joined the site and have provided Directly.me with their contact lists means that you may now be contacted by people on the site, requesting that you read a message so that they can earn a reward. This has the potential to seriously annoy people who do not want to be part of it or be contacted by people they don’t know, and a small reward is not going to change their minds.
This site may be a legitimate new way to get in contact with people you don’t know but want to work with or get advice from. Paying a fee in order to get in contact with others may increase the quality of the requests very successful people get – you are not going to spend money on frivolous messages. However, a lot of what I have read about LinkedIn and its use has been suggesting that it is not being used to its full potential by most users. People connect with others yet don’t have any real, meaningful interactions with them. Maybe a better way to go for people looking to get in contact with employers and other professionals would be to start utilising LinkedIn better. Developing real relationships with your contacts on LinkedIn could provide the same benefits and information for free that Directly.me want you to pay for.
Whether this is a scam or an innovative way to create connections between business people we will have to wait to find out. Check out their website here and decide for yourself. Let us know what you think – cool new social networking tool or just looking for your contacts?