Are users in control in the Web 2.0 world of online social networking? Maybe. But brand marketers remain in control of their ad spends, or not, at the online social networking properties.
This afternoon’s “Taking Control of User Generated Content” panel at the Interactive Advertising Bureau Leadersip Forum promised a discussion on the brand risks and rewards of marketing at user generated content fueled social networking properties:
Although the value and reach that consumer-generated content can project is tremendous, significant challenges exist to harnessing its influence. The most avid user generated vanguards are not pleased with being marketed to and brand marketers must relinquish control in order to actively participate in the medium.
The only brand marketer on the panel put forth decidedly more social networking marketing risks than rewards.
Mary Bermel, Director Interactive, HP, shared the stage with online publishers John Trimble, SVP Branded Sales, FOX Interactive Media, Dean Harris, Chief Marketing Officer, Kayak.com and moderator, Stacey Lynn Koerner, President, Consumer Experience Practice, Interpublic Media.
Panelists began by offering their operational definitions of “user generated content”:
Trimble: “Interactive dialogue between people in a community environment.”
Harris: “Text, video, pictures, music…designed by not-paid-for professionals.”
Bermel: “Assets not developed by agencies or professionals.”
All panelists concurred that “users are in control” reflects a paradigm shift from push to pull marketing.
For Bermel, the new pull paradigm means HP must create content of value to users so they want to engage with the brand and take the effort to “pull” information from HP.
Bermel is not convinced, however, that HP should be engaging in “pull” marketing at social networking properties such as MySpace and Facebook.
While Trimble touted the MySpace, “sizzle,” Bermel suggested MySpace may not be conducive for making the “intrinsic value” of the HP brand resonate.
While Harris underscored the “transparency” and "accountability” of interactive marketing, Bermel suggested the data is not compelling.
Why is HP Interactive hesitant about jumping on the social networking marketing bandwagon?
HP is all about selling product and Bermel cited research indicating that “people involved in social networking tend not to trust products advertised in the social network.”
Moreover, people interested in HP products visit the HP site directly or visit review sites, Bermel said.
Why does HP have to "be there," Bermel asked.
Trimble offered that MySpace conveniently offers “protected areas” within MySpace to provide marketers with a “trusted environment.” Trimble cited the MySpace homepage and brand sponsored sections saying there are areas in the site that “are not fully user generated.”
For HP, however, an off-site micro-site is not the social networking marketing answer, just as product messages are not the social networking marketing answer.
Bermel does not dismiss the appeal of the social networking phenomenon, however. As in most situations, the answer is a bottom-line one. How much will it cost HP to directly learn about social networking and what will HP get out of it.
MySpace may be the proud host of 100 million friends, but HP does not find them very marketer friendly.