September 27, 2007, 12:00 AM

Gotta Have Friends

(Page 2 of 2)

Gniwisch is measuring the success of his efforts in the 50,000 views the videos have received, the 6,000 YouTubers who signed up for the sweepstakes, and the 16,000 who signed up for “Pinny’s World,” with the request to be notified whenever Ice.com puts up new video.

Boosting the mix

Gniwisch says he’s willing to experiment with YouTube as an entertainment venue rather than a purely marketing vehicle for a while longer to see if ROI will materialize. That is a progression similar to that followed by Ice.com’s blog, Sparkle Like the Stars, which was launched to lift search engine rankings but later started producing ROI in the form of incremental sales.

“If I can get enough people to watch my channel, I can eventually throw a product video that is both entertaining and ROI-driven into the mix,” Gniwisch figures. “As more people register to your channel, your ability to succeed as an ROI-based investment is more likely.”

Marketers’ experiments on a third major social networking venue, Facebook.com, have accelerated recently with the launch in May of the Facebook platform. It’s an open application programming interface on Facebook that allows outside developers and not just Facebook staff to launch applications for others to use on Facebook. Some marketers have been quick to seize on the opportunity to create applications that let members of Facebook-at more than 19 million unique users in August by Nielsen/NetRatings’ figures, currently the fastest-growing social networking site-help themselves while helping the marketer.

In August, for example, Internet superstore Buy.com launched a new application on Facebook more directly tied to ROI than many retailers’ current social networking projects. Its Garage Sale service on Facebook uses e-commerce technology Buy.com acquired earlier this year. The application lets Facebook members post and sell items directly on their profile pages. The service charges a flat 5% commission for items sold, with buyers using a credit card to pay for items, and sellers receiving the funds through Pay Pal or a check cut by Buy.com.

Buy.com sees the growth opportunity with Garage Sale in the fact that the application enables users to transition their social networking personal pages, which already garner high traffic, beyond information-sharing. “The purpose of Garage Sale is to offer consumers a means of conveniently posting and selling items on their profile pages. This is a completely untapped area in e-commerce. The opportunities are virtually endless,” says Buy.com CEO Neel Grover.

Figuring it out

While Buy.com’s application on Facebook has a short and direct path to monetization, other marketers exploring social networking opportunities are still figuring that out. For now, they’re willing to participate in the service of other objectives such as brand building.

Those looking for brand awareness from their participation in social networking sites are measuring their success in behavioral metrics. Such metrics include frequency or length of site visits, interaction with site applications and other behaviors that indicate a higher level of engagement, according to Jupiter Research analyst Patti Freeman Evans.

Some developments in the realm of social networking are so new that analytic tools to measure them are just emerging. On Crowne Plaza Island, the real-world hotel chain’s outpost in online virtual world Second Life (see story, page 34), existing analytics packages couldn’t capture what Crowne Plaza considered key performance indicators in the virtual environment. So its interactive agency, Spunlogic, built new tools to do that. The analytics tools track metrics such as the number of Second Life avatars that use the virtual hotel’s conference rooms, popular entry and exit points, and other in-world observations.

A clear view

Whatever their objective, retailers experimenting with social networking sites must have a clear view of their reasons for being there and what they hope to gain, says Freeman Evans. Marketers out to build brand awareness in the demographic of frequent users of social networking sites-as opposed to the broader age range of occasional users-can find value in participating, she says.

“But if you want to ring the cash register, these are not necessarily the places to go,” Freeman Evans adds. “As long as you have your goals set around those parameters, you can make your decision about the level of effort and spending, and where you might want to stick your toe in the water.”

mary@verticalwebmedia.com

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