No “Friends” For Digital MarketersBoo-hoo.

Social networking’s second boom—in the form of advertising frenzy—could go bust. That’s because of said frenzy backfiring, the research firm Comscore reported. We hate to say it, but we told you so.

First, a little background: The year 2007 marked the resurgence of social networks as the “it” thing in communications technology. Since their proliferation earlier this decade, social sites had proved their appeal to consumers of all ages. Even the college-centric Facebook became open to everyone. Time came for network purveyors and marketers to leverage this appeal—with “behaviorally-targeted” ads, which use software to track a Web-surfer’s actions and then serve up advertisements based on those actions.

Behaviorally targeted advertising became one of the biggest buzzwords for digital marketers in 2007. They dreamed that all their adverts would be eagerly received by Internet users since the ads would tout things in which the users seemed to be interested. And since the basis of social networks is “friends”— whether real life or cyberspace buddies—marketers thought they could enjoy more conversions by sharing users’ purchases with the acquaintances who appear on their profile pages.

But surprise, surprise: Social network users are starting to get sick of being bombarded with ads, behaviorally-targeted or otherwise. At least, that’s according to ComScore, which said that the amount of time social networkers spend on these sites has fallen by 14 percent. MySpace, the biggest social site, saw users fall from 72 million in October to 68.9 million in December.

We knew it. Even behaviorally-targeted ads are no match for message campaigns that consumers actually sign up to receive.

That’s because unlike permission-based messages, behaviorally-targeted ads appear regardless of whether the user wants them. Indeed, a 27-year-old business analyst from Florida initially joined Facebook under pressure from his real-life friends, but quit because he got sick of the deluge of targeted advertisements. He traded in his social network profile for a blog that costs him $6 per month, telling MSNBC, “It’s worth it to not have to look at the ads.”

Plus, permission-based messaging campaigns are proven to work. The ROI of email alone will hit $45.65 for every dollar spent in 2008, more than twice the ROI of other media, says Datran Media. Compare that with this admission of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, whose company has failed to generate as much revenue from social network ads as initially expected: “I don’t think we have the killer, best way to advertise and monetize social networks yet.”

Digital marketers should wait before delving heavily into behavioral ads, lest they sour the consumer base from ever becoming receptive to them. Meanwhile, they should continue to engage in permission-based message campaigns—which, since they require customers to sign up to receive them, are kind of behaviorally targeted anyway.

Eydie Cubarrubia
Marketing Communications Manager, mobileStorm
“I’d rather you text me”