Get it or not, social networking sites are here to stay
A view from Steve Barrett

Get it or not, social networking sites are here to stay

Social networking has spread through media-land like a dose of salts. Not a day goes by without another commentator gasping at the millions of new users signing up to the "advertising medium of the future".

The founders of MySpace, YouTube, Bebo, Piczo and the like have certainly fallen on their feet and divined a way to true riches in double-quick time. But the true revenue streams for these new media owners and their advertisers have yet to be completely proven (Feature, page 22).

The hype is not quite of dotcom-era proportions - US experience shows there are revenues to be had - and the commercial functions rapidly being put together by the UK arms of social networks will be encouraged by research from Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions showing that 70% of European social networkers are prepared to include sponsored content on their personal pages, and that 10% have already branded their space.

Prince William signing up on Facebook may have been a hoax, but even I confess to setting up a MySpace page in an idle moment last Christmas, although I only have one "friend" - the guy who set the site up and he's everyone's pal.

I confess I haven't checked the page for months, so I'm not engaging properly. I guess I am of a generation that still prefers to lean back and watch TV or listen to the radio in my leisure time, rather than indulging in the lean-forward activity of these digital communities.

Call me a Luddite, but I would rather "Twitter" to my friends face to face or over the telephone rather than telling them what I had for breakfast or what time I'm going to bed over a public-facing network.

Of course, I'm not exactly part of the core target audience, although evidence suggests usage of social networks is rapidly expanding from its core teenage and youth audience to "older" groups.

The suits in charge of most media agencies and media owners are also of an age where they don't quite "get" social networking. Hence, it is difficult for them to communicate the opportunity these environments offer brands and advertisers. In some cases, clients are leading the way and dragging media partners along kicking and screaming.

But, one way or another, social networks will be a big part of our future, and everyone in media needs to realise this.

Steve Barrett is editor of Media Week