Sparta will apply advanced analytics and metrics to derive meaning from social networking data. "We're going to do some very interesting things," Sheer said, adding that a social network is essentially a "focus group on steroids."
That strategy ties into a trend Owyang sees: companies offering "insight, intelligence and data" about online communities. There's yet another related category as well, the analyst notes: firms pushing Web collaboration offerings.
From the wide range of choices, G-Unit Records picked Ning, a company formed by Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen. Ning targets both consumers and businesses with its hosted offering.
Chris "Broadway" Romero, who oversees digital media at G-Unit Records, said Ning was the right platform for rap star 50 Cent's social-networking site, citing its ability to "stand in the background."
"Unless you're an administrator, you don't have to see their name too much," he said.
Romero said Ning "could run a little faster," but mused, "Every time you add someone with the power of 50 Cent, it's going to bend the walls of any system out there."
According to Romero, 75,000 people are members of the site. That growth was driven by person-to-person referrals, not traditional advertising, he said. "It's definitely the way of the future," he said of social networking as a marketing tool. "Everyone should do it."
It may not matter much if enterprises find themselves with fewer offerings to choose from down the road, he suggested: "It's more about the person's vision than the tools, most of the time."