Friday, December 7, 2007

The Net on Niche...Social Agents

A link for the folks at Techlightenment landed on my laptop today and I thought I’d better follow up…

I recently blogged about “the parents crashing the party” and how national advertisers will quickly infiltrate what started as a cool, clutter-free user experience with their standard ad units and spam-like feeds.

It doesn’t have to be that way…

Techlightenment is one of several new agencies that are popping out of the woodwork to capitalize on the long…tentacles (sorry Mr. Anderson I just can’t say it again) of social networking sites. Techlightenment focuses on building applications specifically for Facebook but in my research, I’ve found that agencies with a slightly broader focus are also playing effectively in this space.

A few weeks ago I saw an impressive case study presented at an IAB conference that incorporated a Facebook application on behalf of a national advertiser.

This summer Telus Mobility engaged Teehan+Lax, arguably Canada’s finest user experience consultancies, to build a concept for the "MyFaves" rate plan using social networking platforms. The agency was challenged to create a relevant experience for the youthful audience targeted by this product.

The “MyFaves Fishbowl” was launched in July on Facebook, MySpace and espacecanoë. The application allows users to build a customized fishbowl and add fish (representing the friends included in the “MyFaves” program Telus is offering on their rate plan).

By November the program had generated 66,000 installs, 12,000 active users and 3,000 members (members of groups discussing fishbowl contents etc.). But the numbers only tell a part of the story. It’s the engagement that comes with them that adds a new dimension to the media play. The time it takes to build a fish bowl, select backgrounds and select friends to add while Telus gently tells its story in the background. This interaction leaves most other online media applications like banners, in the dust.

I think it’s important to note that the application was built to sit on several platforms. The bowls are embeddable in any online environment.

This platform agnostic approach to development will be key to the niche players in this space.

I had a quick chat today with Jon Lax, co-founder of Teehan+Lax about the apparent rush of national advertisers towards the social scene. Jon suggested that the biggest issue in this space is the advertiser’s ability to conceptualize applications that make sense rather than just establishing a presence. He alluded to the volumes of MySpace pages created by businesses that for the most part, brought little value to the network.

Jon also commented on how quickly Facebook users are getting “application fatigue” making it very challenging for advertisers to position themselves as truly valuable to the users.

Teehan+Lax have launched their second Facebook campaign for Telus this week. The “Telus Mobility Gift Guide” allows users to pick the phone they’d like to receive for the holidays and then post their wish on Facebook.

Time will tell whether the overall social networking fatigue will catch up with this development specialty. In the meantime, it’s certainly creating a breeding ground for creativity and innovation.

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