We're fascinated by the decisions advertisers make when entering the social network fray. Gone are the days of merely buying clicks or impressions efficiently, via ads that are neatly segregated from content. To reach more engaged prospects, advertisers also must create content and actively communicate with consumers too.
Advertisers should not participate in social sites just because they're the latest channel opportunity. Your company's reputation is at stake, so consider product and branding attributes before leaping. If it's possible to cede messaging control to your users, then by all means participate in mainstream social sites.
Here's a quick summary of the latest landscape:
“Brands don't yet have credibility or community” on social networks, explained Marc Schiller, CEO of ElectricArtists. Thus you should “inject concepts in everything that you do.” This sounds nice in theory.
At YouTube, the biggest brands don't inject anything. Instead, visitors are inevitably finding and sharing well-worn messages. Check out any TV ads you can recall, for a trip down memory lane. With user generated video, there can be spoofs (ex. Dove ad we saw about a slovenly guy.) At least the promotion is gratis.
Advertisers do initiate their presence on MySpace, coming up with clever ways to create personas and messages that attract friends. Of course, the corporate fakes are not tolerated anymore. There are many promotional success stories, especially in entertainment and music.
In newer venues like Second Life, “benevolence has to come through” per Schiller. From a brand perspective, it's an environment where you can prototype projects, learn collaboratively and innovate brands. It's still new and takes a lot of creativity to determine where to belong on this network.
Another way to create brand awareness is more familiar turf, as a sponsor. Bill Flitter, from Pheedo, says he has received requests from marketers to associate with non-profits like cancer.org. So you can pay for sponsorships of non-profits, which participate on social sites.
You can always pursue more traditional ad opportunities within a social channel. Buying ads on blogs or within feeds are options where the brands are still front and center. That seems to be the path of least resistance, especially if you already have ads elsewhere on the web.
Although advertisers do lose message control in social networks, you likely won't be flamed out. According to Chad Stoller, from Organic, advertisers can actual garner some respect. The tough crowd apparently mellows out when representatives from major brands participate online, at sites like Slashdot. “People get a lot more polite when they know you're listening.”
Bottom line? Unless you're in some regulated industry, it seems like you should try a test or two.