Study Seeks Value In Brand Chatter On Social Networks

A study conducted jointly by Fox Interactive Media's MySpace and Carat USA's Isobar finds that campaigns taking place within social networks, while difficult to quantify, do in fact deliver value for marketers.

The "Never-Ending Friending" study identified a metric dubbed the "Momentum Effect" by Marketing Evolution, a marketing, measurement and consulting firm. The metric attempts to quantify the impact of a brand within a social network beyond traditional advertising impressions to encompass the viral power of consumer-to-consumer communication.

The findings of the study--conducted over the course of six months with partners TNS, TRU and Marketing Evolution--were presented at a MySpace client summit in Los Angeles on Monday.

"We wanted to answer the question everyone has: 'How do we define success in social media?'" said Heidi Browning, senior vice president of client solutions for Fox Interactive. "Advertising on MySpace is new to everyone. The way most marketers are doing it is building their own communities or microsites within the network. When people come to visit, they can click through on ads, see their own friends there--they can participate. You can add that brand as a 'friend' and bring it into your personal network," Browning said.

Many marketers remain confused and frustrated over how to measure the impact and return on investment of their campaigns with MySpace and other social networks. The lack of any real metrics and standards makes it challenging for marketers to go beyond throwing experimental media dollars into Web 2.0 and 3.0 environments to allocating more substantial budgets.

The study involved quantitative and qualitative feedback from nearly 3,000 U.S. Internet users, as well as MySpace clients for in-depth case studies.

Among the study's key findings: Social networks have spurred a major shift in the way people interact with each other and with media with more than 70% of Americans ages 15 to 34 actively participating in online social networks. The findings also revealed that people are engaging with them during prime-time business and school hours as well.

Isobar clients Adidas and Electronic Arts, both of which have run significant campaigns on MySpace, participated in the study, which attributed more than 70% of their marketing return on investment to the "Momentum Effect."

Both marketers detailed the results of their campaigns (Adidas compared two running show launches, EA debuted a new game) in the study, which sought to quantify what the effect is for marketers of consumers going beyond clicking on an ad.

For example, what is the value of an Adidas brand champion adorning his MySpace home page with Adidas-branded wallpaper? What is the value of such an action, particularly as that person's friends encounter it?

"We looked at awareness levels, responses to an ad, the number of people who came to the custom community--and asked what the exponential value of the conversation happening in the social network is," Browning said. In other words, what value can be placed on the brand chatter among friends in your network?

One MySpace member, a 27-year-old male, noted, "I don't want brands to advertise to me, I want them to be my friends." Browning said people demand a different kind of relationship with "their" brands, and that this calls for alternative communications strategies.

Fox Interactive plans to extend the study to more marketers and share the findings. "Our plan is to make this research as turnkey as possible and to partner with clients," Browning added.

Sarah Fay, president of Isobar, and a veteran interactive marketing strategist, said the problem of quantifying the return on investment from social network involvement continues to be a challenge for marketers and the industry.

"We've been pretty enthusiastic about recommending social networking for online campaigns knowing that there was value past the impressions delivered," she said. "We had a sense of the 'Momentum Effect' but we couldn't quantify it. The Marketing Evolution piece of this helps us understand that a lot better. Granted it's only two clients. We're not sure if it's the pinnacle of what you can achieve, but it's a first stake in the ground. It's not like it all ends here."

The research, Fay said, suggested that 70% of the value of the program was attributed to the viral effect beyond merely purchased media. "That's a lot of added value."

Isobar clients Adidas and EA--and Reebok, which didn't participate in the study--know social networks are right for their brands. "But because this is new, not everyone can envision it right away. You can tap in and use social networking platforms for all kinds of brands but as with everything, there is a finesse involved. It really is all about the creative strategy," Fay observed.

The "Momentum Effect' can be a real "accelerator to any kind of media program if you're able to tap into the consumer-to consumer benefit," Fay said, adding that marketers need to activate the community for their brand.

The new study also found that more than 40% of all social networkers said they use social networking sites to learn more about brands or products that they like, and 28% said at some point a friend has recommended a brand or product to them.

Also, the vast majority of time on social networks was spent connecting with family and friends as opposed to meeting new people. Of those polled, 69% said they use social networks to connect with existing friends and 41% said they use the sites to connect with family members.

In addition, the study revealed that current social networkers spend on average more than seven hours per week on social networking sites, and that those hours are driving the growth of overall time spent online.

More than 31% of online social networkers claim they spend more time on the Web in general after starting to use a social network. They were also more inclined to engage in other entertainment media and activities including listening to music, playing games and talking on their mobile phone.

The study was conducted in a series of focus groups by TRU of MySpace users in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. An online survey of 3,000+ U.S. panelists ages 14 to 40 was conducted by TNS and included three segments: MySpace users, social networkers from other sites, and non-social networkers.

Finally, detailed case studies including behavioral tracking and survey measurement with two MySpace clients, adidas and Electronic Arts were conducted by ROI measurement firm Marketing Evolution.

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