By Amanda Ferrante, Assistant Editor
Social networking is on the rise across the age divide. Approximately 37 percent of U.S. adult Internet users and 70 percent of online teens engage in social networking every month, according to a research report by eMarketer.The same report revealed that social network advertising spending is expected to grow to $2.2 in 2008, up 81 percent from 2007. This presents a valuable opportunity for retailers to drive brand awareness and create buzz for their brands — and many retailers already have integrated social networking into their marketing and CRM strategies.
A New Era of Networking“Show me when the sales are, what you’re selling and pictures of what you’re selling. Those would be important things,” says Cory, a 17-year-old Myspace user from Chicago, Illinois. He took part in a study conducted by TRU (Teenage Research Unlimited) for a research report commissioned by Fox Interactive Media, Inc., Isobar, and CaratUSA. The report titled “Never Ending Friending: A Journey Into Social Networking,” sizes up the opportunity for marketers to use social networks as an additional advertising medium.
“I don’t want companies to advertise to me, I want them to be my friend,” says Rob, a 27-year-old Myspace user who also participated in the “Never Ending Friending” study. That’s just what some retailers are doing — taking a “friendly” approach and allowing consumers to combine their love of social networks with their shopping experience.
One in five young adults in the U.S. use social networking sites daily, according to a recent Forrester Research report. Like Cory and Rob, many of these social network users are consumers looking for the best deal but they are particular about the approach marketers take.
Sears is inviting shoppers to gather critiques of a potential purchase through its prom dress promotion on Sears.com. Using Facebook, users can share a photo of a model wearing the dress, along with a product description and message reading: “Look at this prom dress I found on Sears.com! Check it out and let me know what you think.”
The idea is for high-school girls to solicit feedback from their friends before making a purchase, says Tom Zanoni, group account director at WhittmanHart Interactive, the independent digital shop that crafted the Sears campaign. Agency research indicated that a prom dress is an important decision for girls, who believe it is important to get feedback from a circle of trusted peers before purchasing.
Sears is supplementing the option with an ad campaign on Facebook running through April, targeted to the site’s 2.4 million 15- to 17-year-old girls. The company also is using in-store displays and signage to promote its “Prom Premiere 2008.”
By Invitation Only
High-end brands can make waves in the social networking arena through more exclusive groups, such as aSmallWorld, a by-invitation-only network. Appealing to those consumers who want to be part of something that not everyone has access to, the “elite” social network, aSmallWorld, founded by investment banker Erik Wachtmeister, can be accessed by invitation only and stresses that it allows only “those who already have strong connections with one another.”
When Remy Martin was looking to drive sales of its luxury brand Louis XIII cognac — aged between 40 and 100 years and priced between $1,500 and $1,800 a bottle — it set its sights for aSmallWorld, which it considered to be a network that would attract a higher level of consumer compared to sites like Myspace and Facebook, which typically attract college-age or younger users.
More recently, Mercedes-Benz staked their claim in aSmallWorld to further expand its targeted, direct marketing to consumers. Mercedes-Benz is sponsoring the new ASW TV feature and will be the first brand partner to broadcast. This will make it possible for Mercedes-Benz and aSmallWorld to benefit from synergy effects with Mercedes-benz.tv, the Mercedes-Benz IPTV platform.
Reaching Teenagers and Beyond
For today’s youth, technology is no longer a luxury, but a part of life. The 12- to 17-year-olds in the U.S. spend 17 percent more time online than adults for personal use, and 155 percent more time instant messaging, according to the Forrester Research report, “Social Computing.” This creates opportunity for retailers to target shoppers where they’re easiest to reach.
With the social network scene growing, it’s not only teens who are surfing the Net. GetBack Media, a new social network targeted to people over age 35, launched recently stocked with age-appropriate music and TV content.
Social Networks are expanding by leaps and bounds — no longer limited to teens and tweens, but an open opportunity for retailers to reach a targeted audience and use the personal features to enhance CRM and brand awareness. “[Social Networks] offer another chance to gain visibility,” says Bob Phibbs of The Retail Doctor. “Much like multiple brick and mortar locations, people drive by and go, ‘Hey, they’re here, too.’ Assuming they have a good feeling towards the brand, it helps reinforce their good feeling.”