Over the last few months, I’ve written several postings on companies including blip.tv, meebo, and slide that were profiled in Business 2.0 Magazine’s 25 Web 2.0 startups to watch in 2007. The purpose was to look at how Web 2.0 companies are using social media to market and publicize themselves and their initiatives. My interviews have confirmed what I believed was the case all along: The old rules don’t apply.
To further illustrate my contention, I turn to Bebo and its international president, Joanna Shields. According to Business 2.0, Bebo has built a social network, more than 30 million members strong, that keeps users’ pages private but still allows them to share things like videos and drawings made on an online whiteboard.
Dan Greenfield : Earlier this year, Bebo got a big boost from Business 2.0 who said the winners will invent new ways to tap into what the Web brings to the party: instant feedback, instant analysis, and the collective wisdom of a billion users. How is Bebo tapping into web 2.0 to market and publicize itself?
Joanna Shields: Bebo is a social media company, so participation in campaigns and initiatives, along with growth in membership, spring forth organically from the Bebo user base. Users naturally promote the site by inviting friends through email or blogging about their Bebo experience.
Greenfield: What has new/social media allowed you to do that traditional media could not in promoting Bebo?
Shields: Our audience is online. Bebo’s growth is through word of mouth and email from friends. Before social media, growth like this would be incredibly difficult to achieve without serious investment in promotion and marketing. The Bebo site is our best marketing asset. Our growth has been by word of mouth and driven by the community – for the network to be ‘real’ and not manufactured this is the only truly effective means of marketing.
Greenfield : What is the strategy behind your blog ? Is it achieving its objective?
Shields: There is no official ‘Bebo’ blog, though there is a Bebo team blog and many on the Bebo team have their own. Sometimes they address programs or product upgrades, and sometimes they just talk about personal interests. Rather than thinking of Bebo as a single community, we like to think of it as a network of communities that connect people with real friends, colleagues and other individuals with similar interests. As a result, having a single communication to all users doesn’t fit.
Greenfield : It has been said that with new/social media, the product is the marketing. Is that the case with Bebo?
Shields: We started Bebo with the goal to become the best way to connect, be inspired and discover your passions in life – by interacting with your friends and other Bebo users who share similar views. We don’t subvert our users with push marketing they don’t want to be a part of. Users actively engage with the brands by accepting them into their profile. The interaction with profile skins, email skins, photos, blogs, comments, quizzes, music playlists, whiteboard art and video sharing creates an on-going relationship between the user and marketer at many levels.
Greenfield : How do you differentiate yourself in the social networking space?
Shields: The Bebo environment has a bit less mass market clutter than some of the others, and tends to promote a higher level of engagement than other social networking sites. Beboers often spend a lot of time working on their profiles, their spaces, their thoughts and their creative output. We are always busy giving them the tools and the environment to take their individual uniqueness and celebrate it. Beboers are also generally less interested in racking up endless numbers of “friends” or contacts. They interact frequently with their real world friends on Bebo as an extension of their day, and like to connect with new people who share their values or have something else in common. In addition, Bebo is a place where people can discover their passions and get discovered by others – whatever they may be. It’s a place where an unknown author can get a book deal, where an unsigned band can get its big break, and where a talented designer can get noticed.
Greenfield : Any changes planned in the near future to market Bebo?
Shields: We are continually forming new partnerships and offering new tools to help fill the needs our user-base has expressed. We’ve recently added mobile capabilities, have partnered with the creators of LonelyGirl15 to create original Bebo content in KateModern, a series that the community can impact through comment and recommendation. Each time a new tool is added, our user base responds positively and they tell their friends. This is how we’ve always done it, and it works. Look for some exciting new partnerships ahead.
Greenfield : Thank you Joanna.
This past June, Bebo announced partnerships with Apple and Yahoo! With the Apple deal, Bebo users will be able to buy music directly from the profiles of any musician who has a Bebo profile and whose music is available on iTunes. The Yahoo! deal makes Yahoo search available to Bebo users and has fueled acquisition rumors.
Bebo, along with FaceBook and MySpace, demonstrates the power of web 2.0 to create social networks. Each is taking a different approach to attract users, build communities, and ultimately enlist advertisers. Unlike MySpace, Bebo limits its use of banner ads and none appear on a user’s page. Its preference is engagement marketing efforts like the launch last month of several new widgets around photo effects, gossip, celebrities and entertainment. In true Web 2.0 fashion, they did not issue a press release. Noted only on their blog, the new widgets were based on user suggestions and requests. Rather than banner ads, Bebo is relying on users to spread the word through the use of these features.
I find it curious that in an age when online advertising is exploding, Web 2.0 companies are relying on online advertising to generate revenue, but they themselves are not engaging in advertising or a very little traditional PR to publicize their efforts.
I am not so sure this is a disconnect as much as an indication that the Web 2.0 companies featured in Business 2.0 are taking advantage of the intersection of new business models, new technologies and the new expectations of their users. Time will tell if these models are sustainable or whether web 2.0 companies will need to resort to more traditional advertising and PR to grow their business among mainstream consumers. Time will also tell which ones will go it alone and which ones will be bought up by larger companies with larger advertising budgets.
Let me get back to you.
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