Social Networking and Business Collaboration World – day one

Written on 24 November, 2008 by Jonathan Crossfield
Categories Social Media Tags social media

Today was the first of two days at the Social Networking and Business Collaboration World conference held at Darling Harbour. Any conference covering anything as wide as the social media phenomenon was always going to have trouble finding focus. When discussing true collaborations between business and social media platforms, the big three speakers of the morning were unanimous in saying that no one has all the answers.

Richard Kimber of Friendster focussed on the social agenda. “A lot of our users are in the developing world and are connecting through social networks with people in the developed world.” Such sentiments are undoubtedly powerful and worthy, but offered little on the topic at hand.

Alternatively, Francesco Cordero of Bebo focussed extensively on the media opportunities of social networking. By transforming Bebo into a multi-layered social media platform, Cordero was able to argue for a pivotal role of brands in specially produced online broadcasts. The huge success of Bebo’s first drama, Kate Modern, complete with product placement and brand-led scripting, showed a distinct way forward for brand funded content with over 60 million streams.

Brand funded content is nothing new – advertorials have been with us as long as people have been reading magazines. The new trend for branded content takes this concept further, more closely integrating advertising and editorial content in a way that consumers respond to.

Nett Magazine, for which I write, is a perfect example of how brand funded content can produce valuable and valued editorial content that consumers are willing to read.

Bebo’s approach is to use product placement and carefully orchestrated storylines to subtly entwine the brands supplying the funding into the finished content. With no ad breaks to interrupt the flow (and be ignored) and no banner ads or other intrusive devices, the brand content is more engaging, producing a far greater response than traditional advertising. But, of course, this method is better suited to large brands than small to medium businesses.

MySpace is taking a different approach. Favouring hyper-targeting, MySpace promises to deliver brand messages and advertising to the demographics of most interest to advertisers. By mingling a traditional advertising model with the immense potential for marketing to specific demographic streams, MySpace hopes to use the massive bank of users to attract advertisers. This is contrary to Bebo’s attempt to use branded content to attract users.

With MySpace, the branding still sits alongside the content as display advertising.

In Bebo’s case, the advertising increasingly IS the content.

Despite these interesting contrasts in approach, the three morning speakers remained guarded regarding the future for each of their services and preferred to discuss their individual successes rather than how business can also find success in collaboration. Instead of providing clear, sage advice for the businesses in the room, most answers revolved around lists of their own successes or the continual use of case studies with no relevance to most businesses. Yes, Warner Bros movies did well on MySpace for ‘The Dark Knight’ promotions, but that bears little relevance to most mainstream businesses and what they can achieve. Although it is interesting to hear over and over how successful MySpace’s business model has become, delegates wanted to hear how they can leverage their own brands off that success.

One point that was commonly discussed during lunch, was the admission by all three social networks that they are focussed almost entirely on the under 24 demographics. As Richard Kimber put it, these are the low-hanging fruit. But many in the audience wondered whether this was the approach to take. After all, much has been said about the way social media networks can revolutionise the internet in the next few years. Should everyone over 24 miss out on these huge advances? Are brands that traditionally market outside Generation Z better off staying within traditional methods?

The afternoon focussed closer on the issues for brands within the social marketing space. With an opening keynote by Tony Thomas of The Population, there was some sensible advice and observation.

How are marketers approaching social networking? Why has social marketing been so difficult for marketers to grasp? Thomas provided some interesting views on why business has been slow to catch onto social networking, not least because of the risks involved. But, he stressed, the benefits of humanising the brand through social media far outweigh the risks.“Brands need to take themselves off the pedestal, where they used to preach and push the audience.”

By stepping down and becoming part of the wider online community, without arrogance and elitism, genuine consumer engagement can be encouraged. And this produces a brand that is generally more loved than one that chooses to stay in the ivory tower, releasing carefully constructed proclamations.

Thomas’ keynote, the highlight of the day for me, was followed by David Higgins of Now, anyone who has read my personal blog will know I have an issue with the current journalistic practice of relying on social media networking for fact-checking and news stories. Earlier this year, I caught out with a story that was completely false. Therefore, I was interested to hear whether Higgins felt that social media and journalism should be allowed to mingle.

He felt safe that the community effect of social media would, more often than not, weed out the poor information. The risk of misinformation was not seen as too great, when weighed against the advantages of journalists using social media platforms such as Digg or Wikipedia.

It has to be said that the audience did not share that optimism, as I discovered on chatting with other delegates afterwards.

The day was rounded off with an exceptional presentation of how Smirnoff worked with agency Amnesia to use social media to create Australia’s biggest party – a brilliant branding exercise – before an interesting panel of most of the key players of the day.

One of the main characteristics of day 1 was the conversation taking place on Twitter (follow us) throughout the conference. Delegates were able to swap opinions or post thoughts on twitter, communicating in a back-channel while the talks and panels proceeded. Each tweet was tagged with #osnbc, to allow others to follow this secondary stream of discussion. During the last panel of the day, this stream was projected onto the screen behind the panel, allowing for a bizarre interaction as people saw their tweets suddenly projected up for the room to see behind the delegate’s heads. Although the Twitter stream has almost become essential at IT and media conferences these days, seeing it writ large almost detracted from the advice being given by the panel.

So, day one is behind us and day two looms tomorrow. Hopefully, there will be more detailed discussion of how brands can utilise the social media space and the trends we can expect to see in the coming years.

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