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02/13/2008

Let's Get Social

BusinessWeek recently ran an interesting article by authors Spender E. Ante and Catherine Holahan called "Generation MySpace is Getting Fed Up," which deals with the tenuous relationship between social networks and advertising. It focuses primarily on the uncertain nature of advertising in this environment and how advertising might affect (read: annoy) users. It's useful reading generally, but one thing in particular caught my attention. "The Myspace Generation," it reads, "may be getting annoyed with the ads and bored with profile pages."

This brings together two things I think are important to understand regarding social media. 1) Serving traditional online ads won't ever be very effective, and 2) the social network that brings utility to the social media sphere will win out.

Let's start with point 2 just to be contrarian. There's no question that social networks like MySpace and Facebook are initially a kick and kind of addicting. But the novelty wears thin quickly. How many vampire attacks can you send before you begin to question the nature of the vampire attack? The poking and gifting fast becomes a nuisance and masks the real value a social network can provide.

A social network like Facebook can serve as the ideal hub for communications and content - more fun than a Yahoo! homepage and more personally relevant than a Google search. The combination of having, in one place, all of your preferred content and quick access to what you're friends are reading and watching, where their eating and what products they're into, is a truly killer app. 

But for the benefit to be realized, the network needs to actually offer the capability to draw the necessary content and applications to create this personal hub. Currently, the social networks have little utilitarian content of this kind and what little there is tends to be incredibly hard to find. There need to be more applications like the ones created by NetFlix and GoodReads and the incredible new city guide UpNext (currently in beta). Have a friend whose tastes you share in movies, take a look at their queue. A friend who is particularly well-read, have a look at reviews of the books they've read. How about your friend who is really in the know. Check out what they think about a recent visit they had at one of Manhattan's hot spots. One can imagine a social network ultimately being a true content hub where friends can share immediately a television program they saw that might appeal to a friend of theirs, a news item directly related to their line of work, or their wedding gift registry. These are the kinds of useful tools that need to become more prevalent on social networks to combat the boredom that eventually comes from one to many "superpokes." And right now they're precious few.

Which brings us to point 1. Companies have to stop focusing on figuring out how to deliver ads to consumers on social networks and begin to actually use the medium to their advantage. An ad will always be passive and, as BusinessWeek notes, sometimes intrusive. Instead "advertisers" should be developing actual applications, as well, ones that are useful to consumers and can take advantage of the inherent viral nature of social networks.

Companies can learn from the likes of NetFlix. The app is, in effect, an ad as well as an extension of their service. But a straight promotion can be transformed in the social sphere, as well.

Why wouldn't a credit card company like MasterCard investigate creating promotional applications in Facebook? Something that extends their SoundStage promotion into the social media habitat, for example. Or take it a step further and allow social networkers to create and share their own "Priceless" campaigns.

Dominos is asking customers to create their own pizza recipes. Why not make this an OpenSocial application that can be used on any of a number of social networks? And why not let them order it right from their profile page?

These are just a couple of examples. Are these ads? Yes, in a sense. But they are neither passive or intrusive. They're instead interactive and self-selective. The promotion is essentially endorsed by whomever passes it along. A music lover might be drawn to the SoundStage promotion app and compelled to share it with a fellow music lover. You can imagine millions of people sharing the Dominos app and concocting the most preposterous (delicious?) recipes. But every person that downloads the app at the encouragement of a friend is a person exposed to the brand.

These sorts of promotions are everywhere but in the past getting them in front of people took major capital investment in advertising or hope that people would stumble upon them. Now the mechanism is there and companies are remiss if they don't take advantage of it.

February 13, 2008 in Branding, Discipline of marketing, Technology | Permalink

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Posted by: Offecinue at Apr 9, 2008 8:23:10 PM