SES Coverage: Blending Advertising and Social Networking

SES New York has kicked off with lots of interesting sessions, most notably in the conference’s new ClickZ track led by Rebecca Lieb. Within this track there was an interesting session this morning on social networks and advertising, which Debborah Richman and I are tag teaming on. This follows nicely behind the Jupiter report on the viability of social media as an ad medium, reported earlier by Kevin Newcomb (and in today’s SearchDay article).

One of the perennial challenges of tying together marketing and social networking is the lack of control involved in viral distribution and the realization that marketers need to “go in with”. Debborah will dig deeper into this aspect.

This challenge relates to local advertising as there can be ways to combine the viral aspects of social media and local. This has been shown through small businesses that have built MySpace profiles, among other developing venues.

Chad Stoller, Executive Director of Emerging Platforms at digital marketing agency Organic sat on the panel and had some interesting thoughts on local. Verticalization is an important strategy, he asserted, to reach qualified audiences. Reaching specific verticals in a social networking context can allow marketers to create a richer message that is better received than in the general MySpace environment. In this way “local” itself can be looked at as its own vertical.

“MySpace has proved to be great for launching movies. But an engaged consumer can be reached in a vertical network that meets a specific interest,” said Stoller. MeetUp was cited as example of an online community that can reach a qualified audience – in this case, small businesses whose presence in the network has self selected their needs to engage in B2B commerce on a local level.

“I know I can get 60,000 small businesses that need new services. They will be more likely to want new banking services or be looking for vendors,” said Stoller. “It’s the ability to create a richer message, richer engagement in a smaller community, they’re pre-qualified. You always want a pre-qualified audience.”

Another important question raised was, How do you decide which social networks are the best places for you to advertise? Timing emerged as the key factor in answering this question. Marc Schiller, CEO of interactive ad firm ElectricArtists cited an example of his client Aloft (division of W Hotels), which was among the first brands to launch an interactive campaign on Second Life. He submitted that the company will get more value out of its decision to position itself in the game than the many companies that could participate in the Second Life land grab that many are projecting.

These companies could get what I like to call the Second Life sloppy seconds. A great deal is still uncertain about Second Life, given negative press and reports about how overblown its value and experience have become. But on the other hand, there could still be potential for valuable national branding and local marketing as the experience evolves.

“Monetization is very early in Second Life,” said Schiller. “Can they make users go into a virtual hotel to make a reservation at a real one? It’s too early to tell, but now it’s about strategically looking at what can be done and what kinds of experiences are possible.”

The key in beating the trends and planting a stake in the next hot social networking environment is – easier said than done – to spot trends before they happen. Schiller asserts that this is best done by looking at your own company, your own message, and the social networks that you “like” for their conduciveness to your product culture

“Everyone is talking about Twitter,” said Schiller as an example. “There will be a brand that gets great attention by figuring out how to do something cool with Twitter that fits who they are. When, How, and Who will that be is the question.”

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