Please comment here on my latest MediaPost opinion column, where I eventually ask a tough question of marketers creating faux profiles on MySpace: Are you creating such profiles simply because you have no real fans to create one for you?
Secret To Corporate MySpace Profiles
by Max Kalehoff
There’s been a lot of hype lately about advertisers entering social networks, particularly MySpace. As consumers direct their attention to online social gathering places, advertisers are more than eager to follow them. Many smaller, edgier and risk-tolerant brands were among the first to enter. This included entertainment and lifestyle brands, such as music artists, night clubs and, ahem.., even porn stars.
But there seems to be a rising flood of mainstream, mega-brands entering social networks as participants–increasingly with fake or character profiles. Not only that, many are seeking to catapult their popularity with hybrid sponsorship and promotion models.
Indeed, USA Today reported this week that Fox Interactive Media, the News Corp. unit that sells advertising on MySpace, is “deluged” with such requests. The unit commands $100,000 to more than $1 million for corporate profile pages that are promoted on the network with banners, text links and other means. Mark Kingdon, CEO of Organic, recently posted a nice roundup of big brands proliferating in MySpace. The list included the likes of “X Men 3,” “American Idol,” Adidas, Nike, Honda Element, Toyota Yaris, Wendy’s and Jack In The Box among numerous others.
For marketers who venture into social networks with fake profiles, some important questions emerge: What is it about brand profiles that appeals to members within an online community? What motivates consumers to connect with brands in this context?
Expression and imagery
While entertainment value is certainly a consideration, image and expression are perhaps the two most important characteristics of a brand profile. It is one thing to achieve consumer attention–or even genuine interest–in a brand profile, but it’s an entirely different game when a profile becomes an aspiring icon that people embrace to shape or enhance their own facade. Expression is one of the core reasons people engage in consumer-generated media, and social networks and profiles are no exception.
Not unlike a trendy fashion accessory, brand profiles with inherent utility for human expression can achieve a higher level of engagement and impact. Like women who feel empowered and confident sporting a Prada handbag, members of social networks often feel a similar satisfaction when flaunting highly esteemed brand profiles in their online buddies list. This is most evident when you consider celebrity and movie brand profiles. Some of these profiles have stables of friends. Yes, there are thousands, sometimes millions of people who’ve endorsed a brand and carry it around as part of their digital identity.
Of course, high fashion is far from the only aspiration; there is beauty, wealth, charm, humor, health and sex among numerous others. There also are many other ways for marketers to extend the capability of brand profiles as expression engines. Consider branded wallpaper, music, movies, emoticons, ringtones and, yes, profiles of brand extensions (think of multiple character profiles for a movie).
Brand profiles are not universally accepted across the Internet
To be sure, some social networks, especially MySpace, are unique in that they lend themselves to brand profiles that embody a character or strive for human imitation. In the case of MySpace, brand profiles are probably more likely to succeed because it is a culture where member nicknames, pseudonyms, anonymity and avatars are common.
But other venues are different. In the more distributed world of blogs, for example, fake profiles are tolerated less, especially with big brands. Forums dedicated to more serious topics–like health care or finance–also can be less tolerant. A good rule of thumb, regardless of the venue, is to be transparent about the motivations and intentions of the brand profile–at all times.
It’s also critical to tread carefully when moving into people’s personal spaces, especially when promoting profiles within a network through advertising, or by directly soliciting other members to befriend a brand’s profile. Irrelevant or indecent messages, or invitations to “become friends,” can quickly make brand profiles nothing more than spam.
Is a MySpace profile right for your brand?
Finally, please put everything I said on hold for just a minute. For all you brand marketers considering creating profiles on MySpace, take a few minutes and consider Wawa, the convenience store franchise. Why? Its thousands of fans created their own MySpace “I Love Wawa” profile, along with forums and boards, all for one reason: they were part of a great customer service and experience. Oh, there’s also a “We love Wawa” community on LiveJournal as well. (Thanks, Christina Kerley, for pointing me to that.)
This raises an important question: Are you creating a MySpace profile simply because you have no real fans to create one for you? I’m not implying fake or character profiles are bad. But before rushing to create one, marketers should ask this tough question.
What do you think?
Join the debate on the MediaPost blog here.