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Social Networking - The Next Great Marketing Medium?

There has been a virtual explosion of social networking sites in the past couple of years. Even the big players like Google, Yahoo and MSN are getting into it. With so much interest in how social networks work, one begins to wonder if there is marketing potential within these social networks? I've been watching social networking for some time now. In fact I'm a member of various social networking sites including http://www.myspace.com/ and https://www.

linkedin.com just to name two. I joined partly because I wanted to see what they were, but more importantly to see what impact social networking would have on SEM in the coming years. I've been a member of various services for some time and the reach these sites have is incredible. For example, from my LinkedIn network of seven people I have an expanded network of over 12,600 people.

Imagine that - I'm only a click or two away from close to 13,000 other people who share my similar interests ranging from what I like to watch on TV to work I could provide to them. Through my connections and their connections, I'm connected to people ranging from the American Cancer Society, to Sun Microsystems to the University of Texas to Google. But what marketing opportunities are there for Social Networking? Well, let's look at MySpace. MySpace is one of the top sites on the Web today. It racked up 9.4 billion page-views in August 2005 (more than Google) and new users are signing up at a mind-boggling rate of 3.5 million a month. MySpace is typical of where today’s 18-30 year old goes to manage their digital life. It allows users to post photos of themselves and their friends, create a blog, list their favorite bands, view and share videos, suggest things to do and lists a set of people they consider friends. It is on this "Friends List" where most of the opportunities lie.

All thirty million plus users of MySpace have a friend’s page that lists people that person considers their friend. This is a list of people that they are interested in talking to and about, as well as hearing from on a regular basis. Once you add someone as your friend they can send you emails, comment on your photos, read your blogs, as well as leave messages that you can then share with others. This is an opportunity for instant feedback about you. The ability to add friends to your page is key for marketing to MySpace users. According to Courtney Holt, head of new media and strategic marketing at Interscope Records, "This generation is growing up without having ever watched programmed media.” "They don't think in terms of the album, and they don't think in terms of a TV schedule. They think in terms of TiVo, P2P, AOL, and of course MySpace.” You can see how this could grow. Let's say you create a MySpace account to talk about your product or service.

You blog about it and search for others that may share your interests. You then invite them to be your friend. When they become a friend you start your "soft sell" pitching your product to them. As they grow to appreciate it, they start blogging and sharing it. Soon hundreds or even thousand of people are talking about you and your product or service. Don't think this will work? Let me give you some examples. There are many bands who have gotten their start on MySpace. Simply by hosting some of their music online and blogging about themselves they developed a following. Soon they had record deals and contracts lined up. Of course to use services like MySpace you need to have something this target market needs.

If you don't then you probably shouldn't put too much effort into MySpace. But that doesn't mean other social networking opportunities should be overlooked. As I mentioned above, LinkedIn is more of a professional introduction service. If your product or service fits here then by all means explore it further. And there are others as well. Services such as Yahoo!s MyWeb, Flickr, http://del.icio.us and more. So if you've ever wondered what other online opportunities could be out there, consider social networking.


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