In the Shadow of Twitter

The online world’s abuzz over how Twitter plans to make money, as the social network’s audience soars. Yet while Twitter hogs the limelight, lots of other social sites are building audiences and winning over advertisers.

For a who’s who in the online social world, let’s look at comScore’s list of top social sites. It’s no secret: MySpace heads up the list with 70.3 million unique visitors, followed by Facebook with 57.4 million unique visitors in February. In recent months, MySpace’s parent company, News Corp., has been making investments to build the site’s audience, while Facebook continues to introduce changes that affect the ways brands connect with fans.

In the shadow of these social giants, lesser-known networks are building audiences and generating revenue from advertisements, sponsorships, and branded widgets.

For instance, Buzz Media, formerly Buzznet, has developed a healthy community around music, celebrity, and entertainment news, photos, and videos; it has 8.7 million unique visitors, according to comScore. And the network is entirely ad-supported. So what’s Buzz Media’s secret? “We start with the premise that communities are built around common interests,” said Karina Kogan, SVP of marketing, for Buzz Media. “It’s a bunch of people getting together to talk about Mel Gibson’s divorce or My Chemical Romance, a band. It’s not about people updating their personal profile.”

Plus, Buzz Media offers customized advertisements. A promotion for “The Cougar,” a TV Land series about older women who like younger men, features a celebrity tracker that will enable fans to follow the likes of Zac Efron and Robert Pattinson on a Google Map. It will also be sponsored by USA Network. Plus Buzz Media developed a skin on its site for the movie “Twilight” and included an embedded movie trailer that other sites linked to. People, she said, didn’t realize the content was an advertisement.

Here’s an overview of some other social networks.

Classmates Online and MyLife.com: Old-Timer’s Circle

MySpace and Facebook are running circles around the granddaddies of social networking sites: Classmates Online and MyLife.com, formerly known as Reunion.com. But these old-timers are still alive and kicking, even though each insists on imposing a membership fee if a member wants to truly network with former friends and classmates. What’s more, comScore’s February report shows that Classmates (16.2 million unique visitors) and MyLife (15.3 million) have far bigger audiences than LinkedIn (6.9 million) and Twitter. (This week, comScore reported unique visitors at Twitter jumped to 9.3 million in March, up from 4 million in February.)

Ads at Classmates Online and MyLife.com here are the standard fare, including leaderboards and towers, what one would expect from these sites. Classmates is pulling in ads from businesses such as Mate1.com, a dating service; and Equifax ID Patrol, an identity protection service; while MyLife’s advertisers include Perfectmatch.com, another dating service; and Gamevance, a game site.

Multiply: Where Flickr Meets YouTube

Multiply’s spokeswoman emphasizes the site, launched in 2004, is the third-fastest growing social network, year over year, based on Nielsen data. According to comScore, the site had 1.8 million unique visitors in February 2009, up 54 percent over the same month last year.

People who register with the site can upload and store their photos, videos, and blog posts from other sites, such as Flickr, Picasa, YouTube, Metacafe, TypePad, and LiveJournal, and share the content with friends.

In a sign that it’s serious about building ad sales, three months ago the site brought in seasoned salesman Christopher Yates as vice president of ad sales and strategy. About 75 percent of the site’s revenue is from advertising, according to spokeswoman Julie Wohlberg. Current advertisers include Converse, Nokia, Canon, Kenneth Cole Reaction, and Visa.

AddThis: Social Button/Widget Distributor

AddThis, a bookmarking and social-sharing service with over 2 million unique visitors in the United States, doesn’t generate revenue from advertising or other sources yet. Look for that to change now that it’s owned by Clearspring, a company that helps advertisers create, distribute, and track widgets. Clearspring clients have included Snickers, Blockbuster, Aquafina, Snapple, Sony Pictures, and H&R Block; the widget distributor charges clients based on a widget’s performance, or its cost per installation.

Clearspring CEO Hooman Radfar declined to provide details about plans for AddThis, emphasizing that the first steps after the acquisition involved integrating business operations and platforms and “revitalizing” the AddThis site.

He said advertising for AddThis “fits into our model in a lot of ways,” but also insists “there are bigger things we’re working on.” He didn’t offer specifics, other than to suggest that they could be services based on the data — or insights — collected about visitor traffic and other trends.

imeem: Winning Over Brands

Things are getting interesting over at imeem, a social music service that encourages people to stream music and video at no cost, develop playlists, and find other people with similar tastes. Registered imeem users can also embed their playlists on other Web sites and in their profiles on MySpace, Facebook, and other social networking sites. (ComScore’s list of top social networking sites ranks imeem as number 13, with 6 million unique visitors in December; it did not appear on the February list because it was likely moved to the music category, said a comScore spokesman.)

Laundry detergent Gain takes a good shot at overcoming a challenge that consumer-packaged goods companies encounter when peddling ordinary products. For its imeem campaign, Gain created three playlists; each can be opened in new window that takes visitors to a microsite promoting Gain’s detergent scents: Joyful Expressions (hear Mary J. Blige’s “Just Fine”); Fresh & Clean (“Say” by John Mayer); and Soothing Sensations (“Take a Bow” by Rihanna).

“We bring together brands, bands, and fans in a way that’s great,” said Matt Graves, imeem’s VP of marketing communications, giving his best elevator pitch for the service. Although he declined to disclose imeem’s revenue, he said the company splits its ad revenue with major and independent music labels. It’s divvied up based on the popularity of music on a pro-rata basis.

For marketers, these social sites offer plenty of opportunities to tweet home about.

Join us for a one-day Online Marketing Summit in a city near you from May 5, 2009, to July 1, 2009. Choose from one of 11 one-day events designed to help interactive marketers do their jobs more effectively. All sessions are new this year and cover such topics as social media, e-mail marketing, search, and integrated marketing. Register 30 days in advance and get a $40 discount!

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