Social networking sites such as MySpace, Friendster and Facebook have become enormously popular, with membership topping 200 million today. Such sites allow users to create personal profiles and interact with others by sharing content and communicating through IM and chat. Users establish links to each other, creating networks that facilitate the sharing of information between friends and introductions between strangers.
As Jupiter Research points out, advertising on social networks provides a powerful channel for marketers to reach online consumers in an “environment which they helped create” rather than on “traditional portals and destination sites”. In doing so, marketers can leverage social networks to build brand awareness, in large part by leveraging the word-of-mouth impact of the network. (“Social Networks”, September 26, 2006).
For marketers, however, advertising on social networks is not without risk. One challenge faced by all marketers is how to appear ‘genuine’ rather than purely commercial in such consumer-created environments. Faced with this dilemma, mass market brands must tread carefully when advertising on such sites. For example, a search on MySpace for Wal-Mart yields a profile page targeting college students with music, electronics and dorm accessories. It also yields a “Don’t Shop Wal-Mart” page with many links to negative news reports about the company. Ironically, green as a category may be better positioned than most to exploit social networks as a marketing channel. There are a couple reasons for this positioning, as the green category may exhibit one or more of the following characteristics:
- Emerging product category: Social network users like to share content as there is an excitement, and even competitiveness, about being first in the know. Emerging products and brands provide the opportunity to exploit the “novelty” factor that motivates viral marketing.
- Social cause: Many consumers are linking to sites or sharing content if these sites or content support an underlying cause.
- Lifestyle brand: Social network users express their online identities, in part, through the connections that they make online. Links to lifestyle brands (or social causes) are ways for consumers to express this identity online.
So, how should green brands take advantage of this consumer-driven social networking environment? In terms of opportunity size, MySpace is in a league of its own with more than 100 million registered users. A review of current activities on MySpace reveals learning for green marketers. Here are a few considerations:
Create profiles. Increasingly, companies and non-profits are creating their own profiles on MySpace. At first glance, they look similar to profiles created by individual users (as the templates are the same). But, in fact, they are branded pages with content posted by a company or non-profit organization. One proxy for the marketing impact generated from placement on a social networking site is the number of people that have linked to a particular profile. Based on this measure, promoters of the movie An Inconvenient Truth have enjoyed significant success for a green brand with nearly 85,000 links to date.
Many not-for-profit organizations also maintain profiles on MySpace. Interestingly, Greenpeace has one of the most popular profiles of any green non-profit. However, this may not be surprising as MySpace is in large part about expressing online identity. Given its grassroots base and edgy tactics, Greenpeace may make for a more unique expression of identify than more mainstream organizations such as the Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund.
* Joint campaign with punk rock band Green Day
A quick survey of eco-friendly companies, however, revealed very few brands with profiles on MySpace but include Annie’s Homegrown (organic), Ben and Jerry’s and green*light magazine. Not surprisingly, user links to these corporate sites are relatively low, indicating that users do not want to associate with the brands within this environment or simply that it is too early to tell.
Nonetheless, opportunity may exist for other niche brands (that are emerging, aligned with a specific lifestyle or support an underlying cause) to create a presence on MySpace. Examples include companies as diverse as Tom’s of Maine, Seventh Generation, Method and Clif Bar to experiment with profiles on MySpace.
Associate with celebrities. Association with celebrities provides credibility for a brand and expands it appeal across a wider audience. One way to do so is to encourage celebrity links on branded profiles. Currently, environmental non-profits are using this tactic as a de facto endorsement and broadening their appeal to a wider audience. Most celebrities linked to environmental groups are musical bands which is not surprising given MySpace’s musical heritage. Several examples include Pearl Jam for Defenders of Wildlife and the Dixie Chicks for the Nature Conservancy. Promoters of An Inconvenient Truth have a link to the Black Eyed Peas while the unbranded profile StopGlobalWarming tapped the military and political figure, Wesley Clark.
Tap into “New Influentials”. Jupiter Research defines “New Influentials” as “active broadcasters of information” across the Internet due to their high consumption, creation and sharing of online content. By doing so, they have significant influence in building brand awareness – spreading information quickly online via blogs and social networking sites. (“Marketing to Influentials,”, November 7, 2006).
Interestingly, many popular green blogs, including TreeHugger and GristMill, maintain profiles within MySpace and include similar content as their blogs. Seeding environmental blogs with engaging, and perhaps exclusive content (including videos, quizzes or even advertising clips themselves) is one way to facilitate viral distribution by New Influentials within social networking environments.
Integrate marketing campaigns with MySpace presence. Advertisers have created profiles within social networking sites in order to extend marketing campaigns to those environments. Marketers should consider linking directly from the creative or corporate site associated with the online campaign to these profiles. These marketers should engage the consumers that visit their social networking profiles by soliciting their participation (eg, quiz, vote, content creation) or by facilitating the viral distribution of posted content. There are two great examples of organizations that maintain integrated profiles on MySpace:
National Resource Defense Council linked up with band Green Day to launch an unbranded campaign, Move America Beyond Oil. The associated campaign site enables users to view video commentary by band members about environmental issues, send messages (eg, email, text) to government officials, learn about what they can do to reduce environmental impact and download free stuff (eg, wallpaper, icons).
The campaign is tied to a profile page within MySpace which includes the video from YouTube and messaging information. While the profile itself has fewer than 6,000 links, significantly, much of the content can be viewed or accessed from Green Day’s own profile which has more than 211,000.
Green Mountain Energy, the largest US retailer of renewable energy, recently launched an ambitious unbranded campaign, BeGreenNow, which relies heavily on social network capabilities through its website as well as in MySpace. The campaign itself features a highly engaging website that is intended to:
- Educate consumers about their carbon footprint (eg, through content, blog, carbon calculator)
- Motivate action to mitigate impact (eg, planting a tree, purchasing carbon offset)
- Connect with likeminded people through community functions (eg, join BeGreenNow community, add link to other social networking sites including MySpace, social shopping site Wists and web site bookmarking and sharing sites like Simpy, Spurl, Furl and del.icio.us)
- Spread the word through a combination of awareness (eg, add BeGreenNow button to personal pages or blogs) and viral tactics (forward to a friend).
The BeGreenNow site also features a video contest where users can submit a video about what they do to be green. What is most interesting about this tactic is that marketers have cleverly embedded the video on its MySpace profile, rather than on the site. Thus, a click on the site’s video banner takes the user to the MySpace page where one can view all of the submitted footage, vote on a favorite video and forward to a friend.
When in doubt, stick to paid search. Consumers are more accepting of advertisements when companies are open and honest about their intentions. If there are any doubts about brand acceptance by social networking users, test the water first with paid search. For example, buy relevant key words to assess demand for a product or brand in the context of a social networking site before you invest in an ongoing presence.