Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Moms and Social Media : How important are Moms?

Just how valuable are moms to the social marketing experience?

How can you adjust your tone and message to tap into their precious "me time"? Which brands are mother approved, and which ones need a time-out? Where are marketers likely to stumble in their mom-friendly campaigns?

Next in Social Media

They're powerful, outspoken, and know how to band together to make brands sit up and take notice of their needs. Find out how and why you should seek the approval of moms for your next campaign.

Moms are joining social networks en-masse.

If you're a mom, you've probably noticed a lot more activity with moms on Facebook in the past six months.

According to comScore, year-over-year growth of women 25-54 with children in the household has gone up nearly 50 percent on Facebook since November of 2007.

Café Mom, a social network for moms, has seen equally impressive growth, albeit from a smaller base of 34 percent. Further, MySpace continues to gain strength among online moms, and while MySpace's 4 percent growth was slower than rival Facebook's, MySpace still attracts more moms on a monthly basis overall. Of course, there are also several smaller social nets dedicated to women and moms, like SisterWoman, that are likely to have experienced similar growth over the past year. A 2008 study from MindShare estimated the number of moms on social networks to be around 33 million, and that number has only gone up since then.

As the sheer number of moms on social nets climbs, so does the amount of time spent on these sites overall.

The average MySpace mom spends more than 12 hours on the site per week, according to a recent MySpace study.

Interestingly, the same medium that women are spending more time with is the one that 75 percent of moms voted saved them time, according to the same MindShare study. And beyond saving them time, moms selected the internet as their second favorite pastime behind reading.

So what are all these moms doing on social nets? Social networking sites, along with the internet, TV, and radio, are the "daily use" media for moms. In fact, MySpace moms are more active in online and social media than they are in watching TV.

When do they find all this time? Late evening (8 p.m. to 11 p.m.) is when most moms are on MySpace. This is also a time when moms are most active with other media, indicating a high degree of simultaneous media usage. MySpace moms in particular report engaging in 1.85 other media activities while surfing. This makes perfect sense, of course; the kids are finally in bed, and the focus shifts back to mom's external interests again. From an advertiser's perspective, this knowledge can be used to influence the tone and messaging of a campaign by tapping into that "me time" mantra made so famous by Oprah and her legions of spiritual guides.

A recent report by Café Mom and Razorfish provides additional insight into various segments of moms and their digital activities. MySpace moms with younger kids, for instance, are more likely to visit social networks mid-morning, perhaps during their children's nap time. This is a perfect opportunity to daypart target those moms with younger children. But keep in mind the value that moms place on this coveted interlude, and ensure your communications are consistent with their expectations.

Those expectations might include using this time to catch up with friends. In fact, 78 percent of MySpace moms report first joining for this very purpose. Moms are also cultivating new friendships online through applications like Circle of Moms. This Facebook tool allows moms to connect with other moms based on common interests -- like using cloth diapers or raising twins -- through a discussion board, polls, photo galleries, and other interactive features. Circle of Moms currently boasts more than 2 million active monthly users and nearly 11,000 fans.

Despite the proliferation of social applications that cater to mom-related activities and kids, moms are, of course, much more than just mothers. Their core interests -- whether they are current events, fashion and style, cooking, music, or business -- are still a part of who they are outside of being a mom. And the brands that cater to those interests can find great success with moms on social sites.

How are brands using social nets to reach moms?

Unfortunately (and somewhat surprisingly), many brands still aren't doing much of anything at all. The top advertiser on Facebook in 2008 was a public service ad supporting the National Problem Gambling Hotline. Of course there were ads for telecom companies and financial services, but those appeared to be driven by a larger ad network buy than part of a specific social media strategy. There were, however, a few brands that did stand out.


Tide's "Dress to the Sevens with Tim Gunn" program is a great example of using a social network to connect with moms -- and women in general -- about a special interest area. Aligned with Fashion Week, Tide partnered with Tim Gunn, famous for the Bravo TV reality show "Project Runway," to bring style tips to moms on MySpace. Ads featuring the style expert are also now running on Facebook.

Betty Crocker

Betty Crocker uses MySpace to provide recipes, links to coupons, and fun seasonal interactive features like the Chocolate Love Spinner for Valentines Day. This isn't rocket science; we've all seen this type of campaign somewhere else before. It's just a matter of bringing useful content one step closer to the users where they're spending their time.

Mercedes GLK

Aside from well executed promotions and brand pages leveraging the massive audience of social nets, advertisers have been trying to find ways to enlist vocal networkers to participate. One such example can be seen in a recent effort for the Mercedes GLK model. Mercedes enlisted popular blogger and mom Amy Allen Clark (of, a part of the Real Girls Media network) to conduct test drives and post the reviews on her blog. Readers are invited to comment for a chance to win gift cards.

While the campaign itself isn't executed on a social network, it's generating a conversation about the vehicle and how specific product attributes fit within a mother's busy life. It's being promoted via widgets on other mom's blogs and some custom ad units on DivineCaroline, which features friending capabilities and other social network components. The campaign may have been even stronger if Mercedes had leveraged those components and provided DivineCaroline users an easier way to share the promotion with their friends.

As with all forms of media that incorporate consumer-generated content, advertisers that target moms on social sites have to be ready to take the good with the bad. We all know what happened to Motrin recently when it wasn't prepared -- if you don't, just Google "motrin moms." A surprisingly cohesive group of connected moms took issue with a Motrin video and used the latest social media tools to voice their displeasure. Thanks to the power of Twitter, Motrin and its agencies got a painful lesson in how to plan for the wave of responses, both positive and negative, that can come from a campaign.

So what should you consider for your brand?

Reference: John Gray Enlighen

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Why Enterprises Struggle with Social Media

Social media continues to grow globally in terms of adoption, usage, interest and impact in a massive way. It’s undeniably changing the way that content and information work particularly in terms of the publishing of consumer opinion. This has transformed the way that consumers relate to brands and the way that brands should operate, driving direct interaction, transparency and a more consultative approach.

However, we still operate in a system defined by the old media world and consequently big brand involvement is still in the main tentative and sporadic. From my experience of trying to get big brands to embrace the social revolution, there are a number of reasons why they have yet to embrace the real opportunities that involvement can deliver:

1. Social Media is often viewed as just another marketing channel: It is of course so much more; it is a completely different approach to interacting with consumers and customers. Of course, you can advertise in a social media environment, but the true return on investment comes from developing communities, creating content to be shared, and talking and listening directly with consumers.

2. It does not fit into current structures: True social media falls somewhere between marketing, PR, communications, content production and web development. No one is quite sure whose responsibility it is and who should ultimately deliver their organisation’s social media strategy.

3. Communities and content are global: Users of social media connect, consume, and share content globally with little care for international borders. Marketing and PR departments and objectives are set up nationally or regionally. Very few organisations have a truly international structure and perspective.

4. Social media needs a long term approach: To build community, distribute content, or get people actively involved in an application takes time. Marketing and PR work on short time frames and are wedded to sets of individual campaigns or short term objectives. Social media is not a campaign, it’s a permanent approach.

5. No guaranteed results: You book advertising and it’s guaranteed to work. For, example you book a web campaign on page views and you keep going until you reach your goal. This is what advertisers call a push medium, i.e. you choose when people see it. Social media is a pull medium; usage and interaction is totally dependent on the user choosing to do so. If it’s not relevant or lacks creative brilliance it will not work. This makes it hard.

6. The metrics are new: Companies are used to the big numbers of advertising, but these numbers are different. Advertising is measured in booked exposures, i.e. page views, while social media is measured in direct interactions, i.e. number of friends, number of views or number of users. These numbers will always be smaller, but not necessarily any less measure of success.

How do big brands take the proper approach to social media?

Fundamentally, it is about putting in place the right organisational structure with a social media department, which is responsible for a company’s long term approach to open their companies up to consumers and have a permanent social media presence. They should also work with marketing and PR to make sure that advertising, product development, research and communications all fit into the social media picture and all aspects of the company and the product are socially optimised. Certain forward thinking organisations, such as Intel and Ford, have already done this and this is the approach that should be followed.

There is also need for more and deeper research, to understand and quantify the value of engaging with consumers in social media versus traditional advertising. This is an emerging area that will see a lot more investment over the next year or so as is needed to show the financial case.

Lastly, companies need to look long term and understand the value that social media can bring to cultivate lifetime advocates of their brand. This is not about campaigns, but a permanent positioning.

Hopefully, the current economy can help companies take this long-term perspective that has been lacking in the boom years.
References: Big Brands Struggle With Social Media by Tom Smith

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Supporting Women in Canada spurs Growth and Economic Success

By involving women in national economic policy, Canada is forging a model for empowering women and building the strength of domestic and global marketplaces.

Women are stepping forward as never before. They are becoming leaders, financial managers, business strategists, risk-takers and entrepreneurs. Canadian business and government are embracing this involvement, with an understanding that women and women-led businesses are an increasingly potent global economic force.

Canada is a world leader in the area of women’s entrepreneurship. A recent study showed that Canadian women are among the most entrepreneurial of all Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.

Over the past two decades, Canada has witnessed an increase in women’s entrepreneurship of over 200%. Since 1997, women in Canada have started small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) at about twice the rate of men. Industry Canada reports that in 2004, 47% of all Canadian SMEs were owned to some degree by women.

A recent Royal Bank of Canada study showed that if women experienced the same opportunities and labour market circumstances as men, personal incomes would be $168 billion higher, an additional 1.6 million women would be employed in Canada and the gross domestic product would increase by 21%. Numbers like these should make government leaders, economists and business people sit up and listen. But do they?

Another recent study, Gender Challenges for Women in the Canadian Advanced Technology Sector, showed that dramatically fewer women than men break into senior corporate management. The study, published by the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management in association with the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance’s Women in Technology Forum, examined gender differences in enterprise creation, management practices and business performance.

Address work–life balance

The study shows that work–life balance is one of the main challenges to women’s success in the advanced technology sector, for both employees and entrepreneurs.

In fact, 60% of businesswomen surveyed cited work–life balance among their top three challenges, along with inadequate leadership skills and a shortage of women mentors. While more women are becoming owners of SMEs, women-owned firms are generally smaller, newer, more concentrated in service industries and, on average, less profitable than SMEs owned by men.

Canadian women exporters generate almost 40% of their sales in foreign markets. Women-owned firms do business with Canada’s most important trading partners: the United States, Asia and Europe.

Not surprisingly, the United States is the dominant market, where 74% of Canadian exporters are making sales. Following close behind, 60% of exporters report activity in Asia and 58% sell in Europe. While the number of women exporters continues to grow, more than half (57%) of women exporters in Canada indicate that they encounter gender-specific export challenges. The two most commonly cited examples are cultural differences and not being taken seriously as business owners.

Creating conditions for women’s success

Since its creation in 1976 to “coordinate policy with respect to the status of women and administer related programmes”, Status of Women Canada (SWC) has worked alongside its governmental, non-governmental and private sector partners to influence policies and major initiatives that have significantly benefited women and girls in Canada.

At the helm is newly appointed Minister of State (Status of Women), Helena Guergis. With a proven interest in women’s issues, and as a former small business owner herself, Guergis becomes the minister responsible for this small but vibrant organization as it emerges from a period of dramatic change and redevelopment.

Recognizing that a considerable gender gap remained in many aspects of Canadian life, SWC began modernizing and streamlining to make itself more accountable to the Canadian public, to be more responsive to changing needs of Canadian women and men and specifically to address barriers to women’s full participation in all aspects of Canadian life. SWC’s strategic direction is now three-pronged: to improve women’s economic security and prosperity; to enhance women’s personal safety and security; and to encourage women’s participation in leadership and decision-making roles.

SWC promotes women’s ownership in the workforce, encourages their participation in non-traditional careers and helps to ensure equal access to employment and parental benefits. This means supporting women’s entrepreneurship effectively and in very concrete ways, domestically as well as globally. In this respect, SWC collaborates with its partners to assist women in improving their financial and economic literacy, developing business and leadership skills, gaining access to mentors and achieving success in the economy and in society.

SWC enhances women’s personal safety and security by influencing government policies and programmes, and funding commercial and non-profit organizations to carry out projects that meet the needs of girls and women, particularly in the areas of violence, economic prosperity and leadership development. Notable among SWC’s partners is the Native Women’s Association of Canada and its bold, grass-roots Sisters in Spirit initiative, which confronts violence against aboriginal women head on.

SWC encourages women’s participation in leadership and decision-making roles by intensifying partnerships with governments, the private sector and the broader Canadian public to ensure women are fully represented at corporate and government decision-making tables. An active proponent of leadership training for women, SWC promotes opportunities for girls and women to acquire the skills they need to wield influence in the corridors of power and the global marketplace.

There are new partnerships with key government departments, particularly those with a clear role in the day-to-day lives of Canadian girls and women. Not surprisingly, some of SWC’s strongest working relationships are with federal economic and social affairs agencies.

One of the most fruitful and mutually beneficial relationships is with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT). In January 2008, DFAIT sponsored a Canadian businesswomen’s trade mission to Jamaica and Barbados. Guergis, who was then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, led the very successful mission.

Partners in women’s prosperity

In Canada, one challenge for SMEs is to sort through the many resources and programmes available for those who meet particular needs. This can be daunting for non-traditional women entrepreneurs.

Ten years ago, in response to global marketing trends, changing demographics, growing interest among women in flexible self-employment and rapid advances in technology, the Government of Canada created export promotion programmes to educate women about international trade opportunities and give them a leg up in international markets.

Since then, DFAIT has sponsored a series of all-women trade missions to a number of cities in the United States (Washington DC, Los Angeles, Chicago), as well as to Australia, the United Kingdom and, as noted previously, Jamaica and Barbados. The missions have given participants a chance to familiarize themselves with local markets, experience different business cultures, network with business contacts and develop their international business know-how.

By the time Ms Guergis led the women’s trade mission to Jamaica and Barbados in January 2008, she had a long list of political achievements, both as a member of Cabinet and, before that, as an opposition party critic on world issues and international trade. After serving as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade from January 2006 to January 2007, she was promoted to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Trade (with additional responsibilities for amateur sport). One of her priority files was women in trade.

In June 2008, as part of the Government of Canada’s efforts to heighten awareness of supplier diversification, she led another businesswomen’s trade mission, this time with a group of women from eastern Canada active in the food industry, to Philadelphia and New York.

Among its various efforts to create the conditions for women’s prosperity, SWC is currently working with partners to explore the potential for women business owners to be certified by WEConnect Canada (see related article, page 28), a newly formed women’s business enterprise. (A women’s business enterprise is a company that is at least 51% owned, managed and controlled by one or more women. The concept was developed by the US Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.) Supplier diversity enhances trading opportunities for under-represented groups including women, minorities and aboriginal people. For Canadian businesswomen seeking to expand, certification would open the door to supply chains in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Women and global entrepreneurship – trading in equality

Many examples exist of initiatives to expand the ranks of businesswomen, women managers and women entrepreneurs throughout the developed and developing worlds.

For example, in March 2008, Goldman Sachs announced it will invest $100 million over five years in a global initiative it calls “10,000 Women”. The project will form partnerships between universities in the United States and Europe and business schools in countries with struggling economies, such as Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Tanzania, to provide 10,000 women with high-quality business and management training. Goldman Sachs is currently developing similar partnerships in the United States to serve disadvantaged women within its own borders.

Meanwhile, voices of organizations like The International Alliance for Women (TIAW) are increasingly difficult to ignore. With more than 50,000 members worldwide, TIAW “unites, supports and promotes professional women and their networks to work together, share resources and leverage ideas” to foster economic empowerment for women. The winner of this year’s TIAW World of Difference Lifetime Achievement Award is Haifa Al Kaylani, the founder of the Arab International Women’s Forum. “This award recognizes each year the extraordinary achievements of one powerful woman and affirms the power within every individual to make all the difference in the world in the betterment of women,” says Al Kaylani.

Women entrepreneurs and the future

By creating the conditions for women’s prosperity, both domestically and internationally, SWC and its partners are helping to ensure continued prosperity for the whole nation. The more opportunities we provide and the easier we make it for women to start businesses, maintain them and expand into global markets, the stronger we make our economy.

In these uncertain times – indeed in what some are calling a global economic crisis – the growing ranks of well-trained and highly motivated Canadian women entrepreneurs are poised to affect – significantly and positively – the outcome.

The will is there. Our work lies now in positioning women front and centre in the global marketplace.

Clare Beckton is a lawyer, author, academic and career civil servant. Since joining the Human Rights Section of Canada’s Department of Justice in 1984, Ms Beckton’s career with the Government of Canada has been on a sharp incline. She took time out in 2005 to complete an MPA (Master of Public Administration) with a focus on leadership at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government as a Fulbright Scholar, and has now been appointed to the Kennedy School’s Women’s Leadership Board.

In 2008 she received the Woman of the Year Award from the Federated Press for “exceptional achievement and outstanding leadership by a Canadian woman”, and she was also recently named one of Canada’s “Top 100 Women” by the Women’s Executive Network.

As coordinator and deputy head of Status of Women Canada, Ms Beckton brings her skills and experience to a wide range of domestic and international forums, such as the Women Leaders Network, a pivotal body that advises Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders on gender issues and ensures women are considered in the development of regional economic and trade policies and perspectives.

The next blog entry will discuss how to attract more women into the workforce in the IT sector in Canada, and what initiatives are underway to help strengthen the Canadian landscape.

Sources: Clare Beckton, Coordinator and Deputy Head, Status of Women Canada

Friday, March 6, 2009

Viral Social Mediated Marketing

Call it viral, buzz or word-of-mouth advertising: Getting customers to spread the word about a new product through their social or professional networks is a hot strategy in the marketing world. Its proponents insist that the technique -- whether online or face-to-face -- is sure to boost a company's return on investment (ROI).
But how can companies find the right individuals to deliver the message?
Marketers may wonder if they are finding the best "seeding points" -- that is, well-connected people at the hub of social networks who will latch on to a product and promote it widely among the people they know.

New research led by Wharton marketing professors Raghuram Iyengar and Christophe Van den Bulte, working with University of Southern California preventive medicine professor Thomas W. Valente, has found that traditional targets may not be as influential as previously thought.

The pharmaceutical firm that sponsored the research for their recently published paper, "Opinion Leadership and Social Contagion in New Product Diffusion," had its "a-ha" moment when they found Physician No. 184 on a map.

The map was part of the researchers' presentation that reported the results to the sponsoring firm. Charted on the map was a tangle of points and lines representing physicians practicing in a large city and the connections between them. Researchers had tracked how prescriptions of a new drug spread from one physician to another, depending on who talked to whom and referred patients to whom.

Mapped out on the screen, the story became clear: The medical community was actually divided into two sub-networks split apparently by ethnicity, with one sub-network dominated by physicians with mostly Asian names and the other with mostly European names. Connecting the two, like a spider suspended on a thread between two webs, was the dot for Physician No. 184 -- a doctor the company's marketing department and salespeople barely knew.

Not only did the study indicate that word-of-mouth had been affecting physicians' prescription behavior -- even after controlling for the effect of sales calls (referred to as "detailing visits" in the pharmaceutical industry) -- but it also showed that converting the right individual could have a dramatic impact. And for executives in the conference room, it revealed something else: They had been overlooking some of the networks' most important social hubs.

"That was the biggest 'aha!' for the company," said Van den Bulte. Physician 184 "was not the most important in the number of connections he was getting, but he was vitally important in linking the networks."

Who's the Leader?

The study indicates that the spread of a product by word-of-mouth -- what the authors call "contagion" -- can and does happen over social networks. The study also indicates that marketers may need to re-think whom they identify as the best seeding points in their word-of-mouth campaigns.

Traditionally, drug companies have focused their efforts on reaching notable community leaders, believing well-known experts to be the most effective emissaries of a new product. In other industries, said Iyengar, marketers and their market research companies have tried to find opinion leaders through direct surveys, asking people, in essence, "Are you an opinion leader?" and then linking those answers to observable characteristics such as age, income, education level, media habits and so on. That, however, has proved rather ineffective, leading some companies to give up on finding seeding points and go for flashy "buzz" campaigns everyone talks about, such as when British fashion retailer French Connection UK put its four-letter acronym in large letters on its bags and shopping windows.

Both of those approaches differ from those used by sociologists and network researchers, who focus on how people interconnect. For example, to identify the most influential leader in a medical community, a sociologist would ask, "Whom do you turn to for advice for treating this kind of ailment?" The different approaches can produce widely different results, the study found.

The researchers tracked the behavior of physicians in three cities -- San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York -- looking specifically at how quickly they started prescribing a new drug to treat a potentially lethal disease. The study started by identifying the physicians who were active in treating the condition during the two years before the drug's launch. Researchers then surveyed those physicians and identified a group of what researchers called "self-reported opinion leaders," doctors who reported themselves to be well-connected, influential members of the community.

The researchers also asked all physicians to name up to eight other doctors with whom they felt comfortable discussing the clinical management and treatment of the disease, and up to eight doctors to whom they typically referred patients. These nominations from fellow physicians produced a second group, whom researchers called "sociometric leaders" -- the most influential and well-respected physicians in the community based on how often they were mentioned by their peers.
"Our study shows that these two measures of opinion leadership do not overlap very well," said Iyengar. "Asking people how important they are is not the best measure of how important they really are. Just because people think they're important doesn't mean it's true. And some people are actually more important than marketers believe, or even they themselves believe."

Physician 184, for example, didn't fit the description of [an individual] who marketers thought would be the most effective promoter of their product -- an outgoing, high-profile doctor whose name often pops up on research papers or on conference speaker lists. "Physician 184 was self-effacing. He did not want to stand on a soap box," said Van den Bulte. "He was respected, but not in a flashy fashion. He was the opposite of a rock star."

Reputation Matters

Physician 184 didn't stand out as a "self-reported opinion leader," but he did stand out in the second group. He was known widely in the local community because he was very involved with treating patients suffering from the disease, and worked tirelessly and closely with colleagues to solve problems and get things done.
Matching the network data with prescription records, the study showed that sociometric leaders like Physician 184 were quicker than the self-reported opinion leaders to use the new drug, and were also more likely to influence other physicians to try it. The study also found that sociometric leaders did take into account what their colleagues were doing. For marketers, this implies that word-of-mouth can affect opinion leaders as well as followers, in contrast to what is often believed and taught -- that only followers are affected by social influence.

Although self-reported opinion leaders were quick to adopt the new drug, they lagged behind the sociometric leaders identified by their colleagues, the study found. The researchers speculate that this was because the self-reported opinion leaders, identifying themselves as having above average status, are less interested in what others are doing. "The people who believe themselves to be opinion leaders are less affected by others," Iyengar said. "These are guys who say, 'I know I'm important. I don't need to care about what other people are doing.'"

The pharmaceutical company found the research so intriguing that it commissioned a similar study, Van den Bulte said. Researchers subsequently collected data for several cities in China where the company planned to launch word-of-mouth marketing efforts targeting sociometric, rather than self-reported, opinion leaders.

Meanwhile, Rivermark LLC, the marketing research company in Lambertville, N.J., that connected the Wharton researchers with the drug company for the first study, recently contacted Iyengar and Van den Bulte about conducting another study. "What is happening now is that people in the pharma industry are starting to wonder how to best re-allocate their marketing efforts to leverage the power of word-of-mouth and they want hard evidence about what works or not," Van den Bulte said.

In the new study, the company has decided to re-deploy its sales force in three cities, reassigning its salespeople to target physicians who are sociometric opinion leaders, rather than self-reported leaders or high-profile research experts. As part of the effort, the company has even tweaked its lists of physicians who are invited to speak at seminars and other events.

The study will compare a year's worth of sales in the three cities with three other similar cities in which the sales force makes no change in strategy. The new sales figures will also be contrasted with sales figures in the previous year. "This second study tries to answer the question of whether corporate marketers can actively leverage opinion leaders to turbo-boost their marketing ROI.

This may well be the very first academic study open to peer-review that investigates this in a clean before-after, test-control field experiment," said Van den Bulte. "The data is still coming in, but the early results are encouraging."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Facebook and Social Mediated Advertising

Facebook is taking a second swing at online classified ads, teaming up with Oodle to launch a classified section that combines selling with the more social aspects that Facebook's users have grown accustomed to. How Facebook will make money from them is still to be determined, however.

Facebook has revamped its online classifieds page. Its new look and feel is -- reminiscent of a Web 2.0-style community, with features that allow for more conversation and networking.

Facebook previously had a classifieds page, Facebook Marketplace, which it launched about 18 months ago, but the site decided to pull it and start again, Oodle CEO Craig Donato told the E-Commerce Times. It selected Oodle, whose online classified software platform supports communities on AOL and MySpace , to relaunch the page, which will carry the same name.

"Online classifieds in social networking communities, as it turns out, is a harder nut to crack than many people would expect," Donato said.

Facebook is rolling out its new classifieds page over a 60-day period.

The site's goal was to keep the buy and sales interactions as lightweight and conversational as possible, Donato said. "The ads just become part of the general conversation -- 'Bob' is writing about remodeling his home and selling furniture that he doesn't need and here is an ad for a sofa."

Charity Participation

The fundamentals of the site work just as an online classified would, with sellers registered the items they are putting up for sale and buyers browsing the listings. They contact sellers through Facebook and then the pre-sale negotiations and exchange of money takes place offline.

Oodle added a few twists, though. Facebook members can also go to the Marketplace, post and listing and then select "Sell for a Cause" Once posted, the listing is distributed to friends through news feeds -- essentially allowing the seller to turn its friends network into a fundraising channel.

Facebook Marketplace relaunched with more than a million registered nonprofits to which Facebook members can choose to donate. Oodle has teamed up with Network for Good to collect payments and distribute the collected money to charities.

Revenue Model?

It would be interesting to track how much is raised through this channel. More to the point, the online classifieds and the revenues that it can raise could also provide a valuation proof point for Facebook, Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group, told the E-Commerce Times. "Facebook really needs a revenue model that can support valuation."

However, it is unclear whether or how Facebook would capture a percentage of any of this revenue stream. More than likely it will be leveraging the content to fine-tune its ad strategy, he said. "Facebook knows a lot about its constituency and should be able to route ads appropriately." It also has a captive audience, he noted. "For all these reasons, this should turn into an interesting and probably very successful experiment."

War Over Classifieds

Indeed, online classifieds have proven to be one of the more bullet-proof content generators for Web 2.0, once a particular site has gained traction. One only has to trot out the iconic Craigslist to understand the appeal. When it launched some 10 years ago, Craigslist cut the legs out from under newspaper classifieds -- one of the reasons why the industry is in such turmoil today.

Now as sites such as Facebook, AOL and MySpace gear up with their offerings, they are looking to do something similar to Craigslist. At the end of last month, AOL launched AOL Classifieds -- also powered by Oodle -- where consumers can search through local classifieds listings by ZIP Code.

AOL Classifieds also links consumers to classifieds listings on other properties within the AOL network, such as AOL Autos, AOL Jobs, AOL Personals, and AOL Real Estate.

Facebook Takes Another Poke at Classified Ads
Erika Morphy, E-Commerce Times
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