Google Zeitgeist 2007: The 'Fastest Rising' Social Network is... Webkinz

Marissa Mayer's Google Zeitgeist 2007 / Trends announcement yesterday makes a strong case that kids have already inherited the Web. Five social media portals and networks made the list of the top ten fastest-rising search terms. But the fastest-rising social media network isn't Facebook, YouTube, or MySpace. It's a social networking site for beanie-baby-like plush toys, and their respective preschool-to-preteen owners, called Webkinz (it's at no. 2, just behind "iPhone"). If you're not familiar with Webkinz, it's a sort of technically primitive (and safe) Second Life for kids, and the price for entry is buying one of the plushes, then logging in and socializing with other online animals in their own virtual world that also includes their own little rooms and a variety of games.

The Webkinz phenomenon comes as little surprise to me; I spent the better part of the last year getting nudged off the home laptop by my two young children, who consider Webkinz to be as good as, or better than, any toy or kid's show on TV. As a potential sign of things to come, my daughter is particularly adept at taking her little Chihuahua on shopping sprees at the Webkinz store, where her purchases have included a virtual widescreen TV, cowboy boots and a rainbow wig. She also has a buddy list, often sends gifts and correspondence to her little brother, and is thrilled when she gets her own PMs from her dear old dad. My son ("Ribbit the frog") likes to play the games section of Webkinz, and he often has me play along with him. My wife ("Pinkie poodle") has even gotten sucked into various games, and I often catch her "working" to help the kids earn Webkinz Cash by playing some of the online games.

At work, social media is about a whole other list of players, but at home, it's all Webkinz. Based on current valuations and investments into other hot social networks, that must make Webkinz worth about, oh, $20 or $30 billion dollars. Who would have ever thought it?



There was more to Marissa Mayer's announcement yesterday, so without further ado, here is the entire U.S. Top 10 list of fastest-rising search terms in 2007:

1. iPhone

2. Webkinz

3. TMZ

4. Transformers

5. YouTube

6. Club Penguin

7. MySpace

8. Heroes

9. Facebook

10. Anna Nicole Smith

Mayer also took some extra time in the presentation to explain how to use Google Trends. Google Trends has been around for some time now in its current state, so it seems that much of the press conference was to draw mainstream attention to the tool, which shows individual search terms and phrase history in Google over time. But she also pointed out some interesting observations to illustrate how it could be used:

- Teachers all around the world are pleased to find that "math" is still more popular than "Paris Hilton" and "Britney Spears."

- Google Trends may be a "political oracle" in that it tracks top-of-mind interest in political candidates, and could potentially predict the outcome of the upcoming elections ("Hillary Clinton" is leading other Democratic candidates at the moment).

- A friend of Mayer's runs a boutique, and uses Google Trends to find out the popularity of various labels of jeans when making a decision on what to stock.

As noted in my previous column, Google Trends is an essential tool for all online marketers. While no exact frequency metrics are available, the data comes straight from the source, and can be particularly revealing about what people are actually thinking about your brand, or how popular it really is.

One exercise I have gone through with some of my own clients is to ping relative brand terms against the competition as a measure of brand popularity and interest in search. The bottom line is that Google Trends doesn't lie. If your brand or company name is behind the competition, then there is some serious branding work to be done -- offline and online.

To get an idea of how to start playing around with Google Trends, here are a few sample comparisons -- click through to see which brands and searches are the most popular in Google over time. You may be surprised:

- Coke vs. Pepsi

- "search engine optimization" vs. "search engine marketing"

- Beyonce vs. Bach

- Websites vs. widgets

If you've never played around Google Trends, have fun with it. As for me, I'm off to spend some more quality social-networking time with the kids.

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