Media: Double Standards - 'Connecting in a way that's never been possible'

Two industry figures explain why their social networking sites offer brands and advertisers an unprecedented opportunity to engage with consumers.

JAY STEVENS - VICE-PRESIDENT SALES AND OPERATIONS, MYSPACE

- Which advertisers are using your site?

Many of the biggest brands in the UK use MySpace to reach their target audiences - Adidas, Sony, Apple, Vodafone, O2, Orange, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Unilever, Sky and Mars are all clients.

- Why is social networking so popular with consumers?

Because it allows people to connect with their passions in a way that's never been possible before. Whether that's video, music, photography, film, comedy or any other passion, sites such as MySpace allow you to discover, share and connect in a new and exciting way.

- How can brands get more involved?

Brands need to become part of the community and part of the conversation. They can connect with people by creating custom, branded communities that allow brands to be part of two-way communication between the brand and the friend.

- What opportunities are there for advertisers on your site?

In addition to standard Internet Advertising Bureau ad formats, MySpace branded communities allow advertisers to create a community of passionate fans. These fans "adopt" the community as a friend and become champions for the advertiser's content and messages.

- What's the best campaign that has run on your site?

In the UK, I would have to say the work we have done together with Channel 4 for its latest E4 show Skins. The community now counts more than 50,000 friends, and has 16,000-plus comments from users. These users are engaging with the brand in ways never previously possible in a linear TV format, from contributing to plot lines, to communicating with the characters, to suggestions for the next ad. This involvement has led to an incredible amount of involvement and sense of ownership by members of the Skins community.

- What are the challenges for advertisers using social networks?

The biggest challenge for advertisers is getting users to interact with their profile. It's important that brands don't just replicate what's on their corporate site, but reward users for their participation. By giving something back to the community - be it a piece of exclusive content, a useful widget, a chance at a prize draw - a new social currency emerges. In return, users will befriend and evangelise the brand through their own personal networks.

- What's your favourite profile on your site?

Tom's (Anderson, the president of MySpace), of course, he has more friends than anyone.

- Who would you most like to join your site?

Everyone.

- How many friends do you have?

More than 200.

CHRIS SETH - MANAGING DIRECTOR EUROPE, PICZO

- Which advertisers are using your site?

An ever-increasing number from early adopters such as Sony, Apple and Nike, to the biggest marketers in the UK such as Procter &Gamble, COI and Orange. Anyone who wants to communicate with teens should be adding Piczo to their media mix. We're also able to help these companies unlock insight into youth markets across Europe, and to develop new products and marketing strategies as a result.

- Why is social networking so popular with consumers?

Social networking meets a couple of fundamental human needs. It allows people to express themselves creatively and to communicate with one another wherever they are. And, by and large, it's free.

- How can brands get more involved?

Brands need to think about the context that attracts people to social networks. If they're there to express themselves, then a brand might offer content or tools that allows them to do this in new ways. Of course, this involves releasing a degree of brand control, but the results are clear: higher levels of consumer engagement and ultimately a greater return on marketing investment.

- What opportunities are there for advertisers on your site?

With 25 million registered users and a fifth of them over here, Piczo enables advertisers to reach two-thirds of teens in the UK. In addition to offering an uncluttered, creative environment for advertisers to reach this elusive audience, brands can create content-rich sites within the network and partner with us to bring new features and functionality to Piczo. From the research we've conducted globally, it's clear brands that are relevant to our members are often co-opted for self-expression and identification at a point in their lives when this is all important.

- What's the best campaign that has run on your site?

Difficult to single one out, but the current NSPCC campaign is a favourite. We worked with the team there to issue a creative brief to a select group of our members. These "Piczo Insiders" then created five branded profiles to help young people understand the issues around child abuse. There, our members can find out more about the issues, show their support in a number of ways, and co-create content around the campaign on their own Piczo pages. You could call it open-source marketing.

- What are the challenges for advertisers using social networks?

The pace of change. The exponential growth in social media has resulted in an increase in the time people spend online, but also in a shift in when they're online: a lot of this activity is happening during peak evening time slots, which further emphasises the trend away from traditional media. The second challenge is about measuring consumer engagement in an effective and consistent way.

- What's your favourite profile on your site?

The Comic Relief profile was a lot of fun, and also a big commercial success.

- Who would you most like to join your site?

Thierry Henry. Need to get him focused for next season.

- How many friends do you have?

More than I used to.

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