Friends to Fans and Followers: To generate brand awareness for its Old Spice fragrance line, Procter & Gamble invited Facebook users to “Turn Up Your Man Smell” by becoming “fans” of its products. Within a week, the brand’s fan page had more than 120,000 new fans. Not content merely to draw fans to its Facebook page, the Red Robin restaurant chain enlisted Facebook users as “brand ambassadors,” asking them to send pre-written recommendations to online friends.
Some 1,500 customers – each with an average of 150 friends – agreed to post recommendations, which the company estimates resulted in approximately 225,000 positive advertising impressions. Faced with declining sales in the wake of safety recalls, Toyota used a combination of YouTube videos and Facebook pages to promote its Sienna minivan.
Creating a fictional couple who “believe they are cool despite all evidence to the contrary”, the automobile manufacturer broadcast a series of videos through the YouTube site, then solicited Facebook fans, combining both forms of social media. Within a few weeks, each of the YouTube videos had been sought out and viewed an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 times, with approximately 2,000 Facebook users signing on as fans of the Sienna.
Consumer Attitude towards Social Networking Sites:
In these and similar cases, social-networking site (SNS) users not only embraced advertising-related content but actively promoted it. Yet, according to one industry-sponsored study, only 22 percent of consumers had a positive attitude toward social media advertising – and 8 percent of consumers studied had abandoned an SNS because of what they perceived as excessive advertising.
For example, although much of the decline in MySpace usage has been due to users’ abandonment of the site in favor of the “next big thing” (i.e., Facebook), many users have suggested that the propensity of unwanted and unsolicited advertising messages contributed significantly to MySpace’s woes.
These concerns suggest a delicate balancing act for social-networking advertising (SNA). On one hand, advertising provides revenue that enables sites to survive (or, in some instances, to thrive). On the other hand, overt and/or excessive commercialization in the form of advertising can dilute the appeal of SNSs.
Thus, the key to successfully integrating advertising into SNSs is consumer acceptance (i.e., positive attitudes toward SNA). Consumers appear to be willing to accept SNA, but sites that do not manage advertising carefully may be perceived as being “populated by pseudo-users who are little more than paid corporate shills”.
Advertisers need to understand more about how to effectively introduce commercial appeals into an SNS realm that many consumers may view as their own public – yet still private – social spaces. This represents a distinct and unique environment for several reasons. With traditional media such as television, radio, and print, consumers perceive an implicit social contract with advertisers. The contract is simple: in exchange for advertising, consumers receive free (or reduced-cost) programming or editorial content.
The culture of the Internet, however, has evolved such that consumers do not perceive such a contract in cyberspace but instead consider advertising to be intrusive and annoying that interrupt the flow of online activities. These views may be even more pervasive in the context of SNSs. Studies suggest that heavy Internet users – such as those who participate in SNSs – are more likely to perceive online advertising negatively. Also, Internet users who actively contribute content – as opposed to those who merely consume content – view online advertisements more negatively.