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Social Networking Ads Walk a Fine Line

Posted on 9.13.2006

Social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook have been tabbed by young Internet users as a place to socialize. It's also a place where the young crowd can speak their minds, without much interference from "the man." But that is changing.

Many companies are logging in and creating pages for one sole purpose - to market their products. What some fear is that pushing ads to the MySpace-type community will actually do damage to the product instead of draw new customers. For many users, the allure of these sites is that they don't have to be constantly bombarded by corporate marketing messages. It can feel like an intrusion. So, the savvy marketers need to find the right balance.

Burger King seems to have done just that. They created a MySpace page for the King, their largely popular and somewhat creepy non-speaking spokesman. As of this writing, the King has amassed more than 127,000 "friends." The King offers free downloads of popular television shows. In this way, users are getting something they want and socializing with the King while promoting Burger King - all without feeling like they are being targeted by a big corporation.

What is interesting to note, is that a company's "friends" get something out of it as well. For example, with a click you can view all of the King's "friends." A little surfing and I found links to several other companies, including: a t-shirt company, several bands and yes, some in the "adult" industry. I'm not too sure how Burger King feels about - or can justify - having links to those kinds of sites. I don't suppose that kind of material is appropriate for all of Burger King's target audience. This type of involuntary or collateral advertising is yet another repercussion that social advertisers need to consider.

EMarketer estimates that marketers will spend $1.9 billion advertising on social networking sites by 2010, accounting for 6.3 percent of total US online ad spending. That's a big jump. It will be interesting to see how the social commumity responds to a new wave of marketing. Any time a company allows users to make comments and post feedback about them, there are some risks involved. Right now it seems that the risk is definitely worth the reward.

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