With the rapid growth of social networking it is difficult to understand what are some of the driving forces behind the fast pace as well as what are the myths. For today’s marketing professional this is more important than ever as consumers are driving the growth through their actions and ability to promote a brand within social networks. Jane Collins, the Director of Consumer Insights for MySpace.com, was the Triangle AMA’s August speaker, on the topic of, “MySpace: Insider’s View of Social Networking,” was a very informative analysis on social networking behavior and what media relationships and roles can be utilized to engage consumers.

In her presentation, Collins examined the results of The Never-ending Friending Research Study, commissioned by Fox Interactive Media, Isobar, and CaratUSA on consumer-focused qualitative and quantitative research to understand how and why consumers interact within social networks. Also Collins showed how and why social networking works for everyone, especially mothers.

As Director of Consumer Insights for MySpace.com, Jane Collins is responsible for providing core data analysis and research initiatives to enhance the advertising sales effort as well as to communicate audience trends to all departments within Fox Interactive including Corporate, PR, Marketing, Finance and Ad Solutions. Collins is a research professional who has 15+ years experience managing and implementing key marketing and research strategies for broadcast, cable, and most recently the Internet with Fox Interactive Media. In the course of her career, Jane has headed Prime time Primary Research for the Entertainment division of ABC television network and was also at the helm of the research effort for Nielsen’s local people meter rollout.

During the presentation, Collins referred to the recent research study commissioned by Key consumer research insights include:

  • Social Networking in an essential part of life across various user segments and life stages
  • Triggers Higher Media Consumption Levels
  • Revamps the Media Landscape
  • Social Networks enrich real life

The study had two phases. The first phase was conducted with ten focus groups of MySpace users, TRU’s TrendWatch Panel, high school Students (ages 16-18), college students (ages 20-22) and adults (ages 25-35). Also the study conducted 3000+ online interviews (ages 14-40): Social networkers, MySpace registered users, MySpace non-registered users, non-social networkers. The second phase was advertiser-focused case studies to gain insight into what kinds of campaigns are successful and how to quantify the Momentum Effect of consumer to consumer marketing. This phase utilized a series of control and exposed measurement using a combination of behavioral tracking and surveys. Also it measured key brand metrics such as intent to recommend, intent to purchase, positive brand image and unaided awareness and compared findings with similar ROI studies conducted by Marketing Evolutions to assess average value.

The results of the focus groups showed engaged communication among current MySpace users. Social networking so important that it tops their preferred use of free time and users feel that life without MySpace is lonesome, out of touch and boring. By examining the role and relationship of media and humans, social network media bypasses the traditional practical (useful and pragmatic) and passive (relaxing, tuning out) media and interactions such as TV or using a search engine. Social networks fall into a “passion zone” whereby users are building bonds with their friends, groups, culture, music, and even romance.

Therefore it best suits today’s brands to have a presence in the social networks’ passion zone where the interaction is about attraction and connection. Social networks have allowed users to be thru to them selves and others. For instances social network sites can show a softer side of a macho guy and allow others to see sides not obvious in person. The study also found that 73% of users are never bored when using social networks. The myth that most social networkers are online for casual relationships with relative strangers show that virtual friends only make up 27% of their regular contacts. In fact most users are connecting with regular friends 69% of the time.

As social networks deepen existing relationships and allow users to rediscover old friends and sustain relationships, users now want brands to be their friends instead of advertising to them. This has led to a new trend of “Friending,” a new communication strategy between brands and consumers. It’s more than just offering special offers and coupons, brands can create a community and offer topics of discussion, tell friends about events sales and special offers.
Most users feel that advertising just gets in the way of surfing and slows down their site experience. However nearly all users described that having brands and companies as friends is entirely different and something they welcome. Sites like MySpace are all about self-expression and today’s consumer loves to wrap themselves in their brands, using them as extensions of themselves and clear statements of their interest and lifestyles and users have shown that they love these opportunities for affiliation.

When we have a brand as a friend we want the free stuff! But the relationship goes beyond that. For today’s brands and companies it’s about engaging beyond the discount. It’s a user wanting to support the brand they care about, associate and publicly align themselves with the brand or company. Also if the brand is recommended by a regular friend the viral effect can be exponential.

By comparing traditional business to consumer (B2C) model to consumer-to-consumer (C2C) models, friending and viral ads have created “the Momentum Effect.” This new model measures the pass along effect from consumer to consumer and each interaction is an impression. The momentum effect has demonstrated extraordinary ROI that dwarfs that of traditional campaigns. Outside of awareness which is chiefly driven by advertising, the phenomenon was seen in metrics of Purchase Intent, Intent to recommend and Average Brand Image Attributes.

Collins reviewed case studies of both Adidas and Electronic Arts and offered the following strategies for brands and companies when creating social network sites:

  • Offer tools to customize user sites and allow the brand to become part of user’s persona. Using skins, images and other graphics users can easily customize their site with brand’s look and feel.
  • Give users something to talks about with their friends; contests, sponsorships and other subjects where conversations and references lead user to brand’s online community.
  • Enable users to realize their dreams. A promise that the brand can help the consumer achieve a closely aligned dream. For instance, EA offered rock bands the opportunity to win a recording contract. The music dream tied in with EA’s burnout video game and its roots in high-powered music.

The presentation concluded with some quick notes about MySpace moms. Despite the typical assumption that moms get onto MySpace to check on their children, 78% joined MySpace to keep in touch with friends. Only 5% initially joined to keep an eye on their kids. The generation X and Y moms born between 1978 and 1992 are the first generation of moms who are able to seamlessly integrate technology into parenting. Typical online activities of MySpace moms include information (news, weather, phone number/yellow pages) parenting, home (meal planning and recipes, online bill pay) and interaction (email, posting photos, instant messaging, blogging). This captive audience is truly captive. Mothers with young children and toddlers are “stuck” at home with a child, household responsibilities and other tasks. Social networks give them an opportunity to connect with other mothers in their same situations without leaving the house. For savvy brands and companies wanting to capture this audience the opportunity is available with social networks.

Judy Collin’s presentation is linked at the triangle AMA site (triangleama.org) under the “Events” section or by clicking here.

Brian McDonald

Brian McDonald started Square Jaw Media to document strategies and techniques he had used over his experience working in marketing and communications since 1990. During this time Brian wrote about many of the exciting Raleigh social media events where great knowledge was being shared and tries to share some of the tips and tricks. . Read Brian's full bio.