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From MySpace to McSpace

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The proliferation of cool, new social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook has led to the decidedly uncool proliferation of corporate and political profiles as means of ''guerilla'' — i.e., non-traditional — advertising, marketing, and campaigning.

Of course, it was only a matter of time. Once companies realized the tremendous popularity of networking sites — Internet tracking site recently ranked MySpace and Facebook the sixth and seventh most trafficked sites worldwide, not far behind juggernauts like Google and YouTube — and the fact that anybody (including corporate bodies) is free to create a profile, it was inevitable that we'd start seeing profiles for Honda, Jack in the Box, and Nike alongside those for actual human beings.

A Slippery Slope

Of course, the first legitimate profiles weren't immediately followed by a horde of corporate tagalongs. Big businesses are, by their very nature, conservative, plodding, and slow on the uptake, and so it naturally took them some time (and, no doubt, hours of soporific strategy sessions) to decide that it was in their interests to jump on the social site bandwagon.

Their path was smoothed, somewhat ironically perhaps, by the marketing activities of certain groups and individuals that are not commonly perceived to be pro-business: namely, rock musicians. Naturally, many social network members are fairly keen to be associated with musical celebrities like Metallica, Bjork, and the Dave Matthews Band — collectively, these musicians boast well over a million MySpace friends. And so, musicians were among the first businesspeople to realize and take advantage of the power of social networking sites to spread their music and, consequently, make money. Likewise, comedians, TV stars, and sports icons have used the sites to help strengthen their own personal brands.

Unfortunately, seeing rockers and actors meet with such marketing success was bound to make businesses and other less friend-worthy entities start shouting, "Me too!"

Does It Work?

The question, of course, is whether such marketing is worth the effort. That is, is it really worth it for a business to invest the time and money required to create a corporate profile?

Well, the answer, of course, varies considerably depending on the business in question. If your business is selling music, for example — i.e., if you're a musician — then advertising your music on a site like Facebook makes perfect sense. People like music. They listen to it for fun. The kinds of music people listen to can make strong social statements about who they are, rendering them cool in the eyes of like-minded individuals. Consequently, social networking and music marketing go together extremely well; lots of people are happy to be virtual friends with a rock star.

If your business is selling industrial tubing, on the other hand, social network marketing is probably a waste of effort. Industrial tubing is not cool. People aren't going to score any social points by being able to count the TexLoc company amongst their friends. Heck, a lot of people probably don't even know what industrial tubing is. Consequently, the only thing such a business would probably achieve by creating a profile would be the ridicule of competitors and disdain of network members.

All of which suggests a general rubric by which one might judge whether a social networking campaign is worth the effort.

The Coolness Continuum

One might say there's a continuum, or spectrum, if you prefer, of coolness running from rock star on the one end to industrial tubing on the other. Broadly speaking, the closer you are to the rock star end, and the further you are from the tubing end, the more worthwhile social network self-promotion is likely to be.

A comparison of political profiles would be illustrative here. To be sure, some might argue, not unreasonably, that it's pretty uncool of any politician to bring his or her sinister machinations into what is supposed to be a fun realm. That said, there are gradations of social site acceptability amongst various politicos.

Take Democratic primary rivals Barack Obama and Christopher Dodd. Obama, a rising star on the national political scene, has, in fact, frequently been described as speaking in front of "rock star" crowds by the media. He is young for a major politician and comes across as relatively hip (i.e., as hip as a politician can be). Some people even find him inspiring, a Kennedyesque figure offering a glimmer of hope after seven long years of the Bush presidency.

In short, as far as coolness goes, Obama comes closest amongst the current presidential candidates to having it. Consequently, it's not surprising that Obama's MySpace profile is linked to nearly 200,000 friends.

Now let's look at Chris Dodd. Dodd is an older gentleman. He comes across as somewhat stiff and patrician. He is a "second-tier" candidate with no realistic chance of winning the presidency. He was mocked on The Daily Show by Jon Stewart after a fly landed on and crawled all over his head during a debate.

Is it any wonder, then, that Dodd's profile has less than one-twentieth of the number of MySpace friends that Obama's has?

If you are wondering whether some social network marketing might be good for your business, you should ask yourself where your business falls on the coolness continuum. Are you a rock star or industrial tubing? Are you an Obama or a Dodd? Would typical network members be glad to have you as a friend, or would they be embarrassed to be seen hanging out with you?

"My Mom Says I'm Cool."

Of course, it can sometimes be difficult to make an honest judgment in this regard. We all want to think we're cool, right? But, to reflect on the immortal words of Milhouse Van Houten quoted above, just because your mom says it's so doesn't make it so.

Similarly, just because it's your company or your presidential campaign, don't delude yourself into thinking that social network marketing holds some potential for you if it really doesn't. And if you really can't tell if your brand, or what have you, meets the necessary coolness threshold, consider asking some objective third parties whether they think you're cool enough to make it worth the investment.

And no, your mom is probably not the best person to ask.
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