MySpace, Facebook, NBC: Brands rule, not users

"Users are in control” packs the same mythical punch as “every vote counts.”  Our democratic system is worthy, but the underwritten by special interests, two-party, primary and insider convention driven presidential election process does not provide each of our citizens an equal “voice.
Written by Donna Bogatin, Contributor
"Users are in control” packs the same mythical punch as “every vote counts.” 

Our democratic system is worthy, but the underwritten by special interests, two-party, primary and insider convention driven presidential election process does not provide each of our citizens an equal “voice.” 

Web 2.0 social networking systems are equally bombastic: “Users are in control.”

Users are in control? Of what?

Are non-paying users in control of the multi-million dollar online infrastructures that host their MySpace and Facebook profiles for free? Of course not.

Are amateur content “creators” in control of the professionally produced, copyright mainstream content that they depend on for their “mashups” and “remixes”? Only by design.

Between Advertising Week and Shop.org conferences over the past few weeks in New York City, I have heard the crowd-pleasing “users are in control” call to arms bandied about incessantly. But to what end?

Are television networks ceding control of their production studios to “ordinary people,” as Yahoo Social Media (see “Yahoo vs. Facebook, MySpace, Digg, YouTube”) calls “users”? NO

Is social networking star MySpace relying solely on individual MySpace “friends” created content or is the Facebook college phenomenon relying solely on individual Facebookers’ created “pokes”? NO

The Beth Comstock, President, Digital Media and Market Development, NBC Universal, OMMA keynote effused a content power to the people message.

Social networking correct user generated content slogans put forth by Comstock:

Content is still king, but the monarchy has been overthrown

Invasion of the pronouns, all about “me”

From content produced by “big media” to content produced by “small media”

Anyone can create and deliver content

As I recount in “NBC on YouTube: great for promos, but no money in sight,” Comstock put on a multi-media show aiming at illustrating how “users are in control” at her NBC television network.

What did she present as "evidence" that "users are in control" at NBC? A slick, professionally produced NBC promo video promoting NBC’s YouTube contest designed to get “ordinary people” to create promo videos for NBC’s “The Office” show!

Far from being in control, YouTubers were required to create content about NBC, for NBC and promoting NBC. According to contest rules:

user-generated videos must…create interest for potential viewers to watch "The Office."

The official press release announcing the NBC and YouTube cross-promotional contest touted the strategic partnership for “engaging viewers in innovative new ways to promote NBC's Fall program lineup.”

The NBC – YouTube so-called “user-generated content” contest is, in reality, a NBC controlled and NBC dictated vehicle to get YouTubers to generate NBC content to NBC’s liking.

While traditional media companies such as NBC are latching on to the “users are in control” bandwagon, user “empowerment” is the touted raison d’etre of social networking sites.

But are users really in control at MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Digg…?

MySpace’s user profiles certainly look as if the users are in control. Each of MySpace’s 100 million plus “friends” Web pages reflect Tom Anderson’s founding philosophies:  anything goes and everyone is my friend.

The individual free-wheeling MySpace profiles, however, are not where MySpace’s value resides, except in aggregate.

At the recent OMMA conference in New York City (see “FIM Ross Levinsohn on MySpace in ‘Real Deal’ exclusive interview”) I engaged Ross Levinsohn, FIM President on the value of MySpace “friends”:

I asked Levinsohn how user-generated content could be “king” for FIM as his 100 million MySpace friends are only commanding “junk” CPMs. I pointed out that I had written about one particular MySpace friend–Sexxy Sangria–and noted that even Google shows little interested in trying to sell ads against her very friendly profile.

Levinsohn replied that even at low CPMs there is a great value in an aggregated billions of impressions. He also expressed enthusiasm for “immersing” professionally produced content within the viral MySpace experience.

Last May, FIM announced such an “immersive” deal: “Fox Entertainment Group and Burger King Corporation bring hit shows to MySpace, Community Members Invited to Download Four Free Episodes from FOX hit “24”:

MySpace users will be able to download-to-own two episodes of the FOX drama at no cost from a special “Have It Your Way” page provided by Burger King...
In addition, MySpace will create a social network around “24,” where users can interact with each other, create user generated content and download the entire first and fifth seasons of the top-rated drama for $1.99 per episode....
“It’s the ultimate ‘Have It Your Way’ experience,” said Gillian Smith, senior director, Media for Burger King Holdings. “We’re giving consumers what they want with the choice of free shows – wherever and whenever they want to watch them – and the ability to talk about those shows in the social networking environment of MySpace.”

What about Facebook? Facebook is also leveraging professionally produced, mainstream, branded content as a lucrative sponsorship strategy, while out sourcing the text-ads it places against Facebooker created profiles (see “Facebook talks ‘The Real Deal’ in exclusive interview”).

In “Facebook on social media: ‘active sharing’ boon to brand marketers online,” I present Facebook’s message to brand marketers, you can “use your brand to define their brand” via Facebook “Sponsored Groups”:

Paramount Classics’ sponsorship of an “Environmentally Conscious” Facebook group to promote its film “An Inconvenient Truth” is an example of a Facebook brand marketing best practice.

Facebookers were asked to “pledge” to attend Al Gore’s movie and those that pledged movie attendance were considered to be “environmentally conscious” and gained the honor of having their photos appear on the Paramount Classics’ sponsored “Environmentally Conscious” Facebook group, in the environmentally esteemed company of Gore.

At Facebook, MySpace and NBC are users “in control,” or are users being controlled by multi-million dollar corporate brand messages? 
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