Consumers take control of brands in new online networking world


Media&Marketing:  Social networks like Bebo, MySpace and Second Life are changing the way people are using the internet. MySpace, owned by News Corporation, is the kingpin of social networking, with 180 million registered users. Bebo, the teenage favourite, has 31 million members and serves up more than five billion page views a month.

The explosion in social networking offers advertisers a valuable opportunity to get close to consumers - if they can work out how to use the medium. For most advertisers, social networks are still an unknown quantity, and brand managers must get on a big learning curve to understand how people are using these networks before they can begin to create strategies for engaging with users.

Mark Charkin, head of sales at Bebo for UK and Ireland, recently suggested that advertisers need to focus on "useful" advertising, something that by providing a service gets over the "cool" barrier. Irish advertisers on Bebo include MBNA, Sky, and Hibernian.

Microsoft Digital Advertising recently launched guidelines for advertisers seeking to engage and monetise social networks. Their advice: understand the consumer's motivation for using the social network; create and maintain good conversations; empower participants, identify online brand advocates and behave like a social networker.

According to Mikko Ketola, sales manager at Microsoft Digital Solutions: "To really harness the power of social recommendation, advertisers have to be prepared to open up their brand to influential social networkers and build trusted connections to let them drive the brand to their communities. This type of relationship provides a two-way dialogue where the brand receives feedback and the social networker could be financially rewarded for their efforts."

UK research company Essential Research has been working with Microsoft in researching the social networks space. Stuart Knapman, of Essential Research, believes that a shift in consumer power will have a fundamental impact on every kind of product or service. He says: "Brands are essentially ideas. An idea is only as big as the number of people who believe it. What does this mean for the ownership of brands in future? Social networks propagate ideas. As social networking becomes the norm, ideas and beliefs will be shaped and shared in this arena. The connected consumer therefore assumes control of brands. As brand managers concede overall control of their brands to consumer networks, a large proportion of their work will be undertaken within these networks, battling for consumers' advocacy and collaboration."

He argues that as consumers will effectively own the brand, they will do with it as they please. Brand properties, devices or marketing output will increasingly be edited, mashed up or remixed. In this scenario, the best brands will benefit as their advocates create new content and ideas which strengthen or rejuvenate them.

Knapman says: "As the tools to create user-generated content become ubiquitous and YouTube and other platforms become household names, consumers are going to find ways to celebrate or denigrate your brand. In a world where consumer attention is extremely difficult to capture, marketers should be opportunistic and consider how to ride the wave created by consumers."

He cites a jokey video made by a Maine theatre company which illustrates the combustive power of mixing Diet Coke with Mentos.

The clip has been viewed over four million times on YouTube and Knapman observes: "Mentos jumped on board quickly and have scooped up all ad inventory associated with the video and have featured the video on their home page. The Diet Coke brand team has let the video run its course and is staying in the background. In most cases, it will be possible to ride the wave and stay on brand, but it will take creativity and a nimble attitude."

So one of the new marketing ploys will be to steer online word of mouth, even seed new ideas. According to Caroline Vogt, of Microsoft Networks: "In the future, it will become commonplace to recruit consumer advocates whose role is to seed ideas within their respective networks. In essence, online communities will become new business partners and will be considered a crucial part of the mix - like ad agencies, researchers or media planners."

Marketing jargon will have to change, too, in the new personal spaces landscape. Instead of word of mouth, digital agencies now talk of "word of mouse".

Marketers and advertisers are stepping up to take advantage of this new trend by creating viral campaigns. In a paper delivered at the recent Esomar World Research Conference in Dublin, InSites Consulting from Belgium said that when developing a viral campaign marketers need to assure the fit with the word-of-mouse profile of their target group. Six segments are distinguished: the silent, the buckets, the diggers, the e-mailers, the super socials and the creators. It's the future Bob, but not as we know it!

Irish watch less TV

Irish people watch less TV than most of our European neighbours. On average, Irish people watch TV for an average of just over three hours (182 minutes) per day. In the UK, the average is 216 minutes per day. Paul Moran, managing director of MediaWorks, who compiled the data from Nielsen ratings, points out that, despite the increasing amount of time people are spending online, TV viewership has remained relatively consistent over the past decade. News is still the most popular TV programme genre in Ireland, whereas reality shows are the most popular in the UK.

Broadcast awards

This year's Shark Awards take place from September 6th to 8th in Kinsale. The annual awards for broadcast creative work are now in their 45th year. The additional Promo Shark Awards will target broadcasters and promo producers. Seminars will include David Pugh-Jones, strategy director for Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions, talking about one-to-one communication, and David Muir, new business director of Ogilvy & Mather London, discussing the opportunities of this new world.

Bruce Dunlop will highlight the changes in broadcasting and the effects these will have on advertising. Tel: 01 676 5991.