How European Social Marketers Should Choose a Social Network

Nate Elliott [Posted by Nate Elliott]

Since this is my first post here, let me begin with an introduction: I've worked at JupiterResearch — now a division of Forrester — for almost six years, first in New York, then in London, and now Berlin. During that time my research has focused primarily on video and rich media advertising, social marketing, and search marketing. I joined Forrester via their acquisition of Jupiter in July 2008, and I'm excited to announce that starting in January I'll be working as a Forrester Principal Analyst serving Interactive Marketers, and that I'll be based out of Vancouver.

Over the past year, I've had a number of European clients ask me which social network they should use for their social marketing campaigns. When they ask that question, the first thing I do is make sure that marketing on a social network is the best strategy for them — something that can be achieved by using Forrester's POST methodology. For many advertisers, marketing on a social network does fit their objectives and strategies, and so the question remains: how can they choose the best social network for them? To answer that question, I recently published a report called 'Social Selection: Choosing the Best Social Network for Your European Social Marketing Efforts.'

First, I should explain how I chose which social networks to discuss in this report. MySpace and Facebook were obvious choices — although many people still think of them as 'American' social networks, they're clearly the two largest networks in Europe as well, and the first two networks we're usually asked about by marketers in any country. I also discuss Bebo in the report; their only real European presence is in the UK and Ireland, but they're strong enough in those markets to make them a key player — and they're usually the third network European marketers ask about. There are many other notable European social networks, of course, but some of them accept only limited advertising (e.g., StudiVZ), some are strong only in very small markets (e.g., Hyves), some focus on specialized niches (e.g., Stardoll), and some simply don't attract as much attention from the advertisers I speak with.

Second, just to be clear, there is no single "best" choice for all European marketers, and the report specifically doesn't pick a "winner." Instead, it walks advertisers through a number of different considerations they should keep in mind when choosing a network, based upon their objectives and strategies, and then gives our opinions on how well Facebook, MySpace and Bebo perform on those criteria. Only by evaluating which considerations are most important to them can advertisers choose the network that's best-suited to their marketing efforts. 

Here are the things I encourage advertisers to think about when choosing a network, and an overview of which network I think performs best on each of those criteria in Europe:

  • Target demographic and behaviors. This is perhaps the most important consideration, since you can't reach your audience if they're not there to be reached. Bebo's average age is under 17, while the average European user on both Facebook and MySpace is in their mid-20's. Not only are the age ranges different on each network, but so are the users' motivations for networking, and therefore the activities they engage in on the networks — all of which, thinking back to the POST methodology, means you need to pick a network only after you've examined the people you're targeting and chosen your strategy.
  • Opportunities to engage users. 'Engagement' is something I get asked about a lot, but advertisers have to think about whether it's really one of their goals: will they be measuring success on getting users to talk to or about their brand, or will they actually be focusing on clicks, impressions/reach, or other classic online metrics? If advertisers really are interested in engagement, then I think Facebook has the best tools to make that happen (such as their new 'engagement ads').
  • Sponsorship opportunities. For advertisers who are interested in reaching lots of users and making sure their own brand messaging gets through, rather than generating engagement, the sponsored pages on MySpace and video sponsorships on Bebo may be more appropriate. 
  • Ad targeting. Banners may not be the most exciting way to market on social networks, but they're still a key part of each network's ad offerings — and they're very useful for driving engagement and visits to sponsored pages. I was very impressed with how Facebook and MySpace use member-contributed data for ad targeting — but unfortunately MySpace hasn't rolled out that targeting across Europe yet. 
  • Flexibility for experimentation. We know that most advertisers are still experimenting with social marketing to see if it works for them, and that social marketing budgets today are typically very small. I think Facebook, with its free branded pages and no minimum spend on display ads, makes it easiest for most marketers to experiment with this channel. And for more advanced marketers, Facebook Platform and Facebook Connect, as well as the OpenSocial initiative being supported by Bebo and MySpace, make it relatively easy to experiment with applications and bringing social behavior back to marketers' own sites. 
  • Ad reporting capabilities. Measurement is often overlooked by social marketers, but it's absolutely vital — especially given this is a new medium and marketers will be challenged to prove it works. Again I was very impressed with both Facebook's and MySpace's reporting features, but again Facebook edged it.
  • Pan-European reach. For advertisers who want to reach users in more than just one market, it's important to work with a network that can help them reach a large number of users in each country. MySpace is the only network with a strong presence across all the key European markets.

If you're a European advertiser interested in marketing on social networks, think about which activities your target audience is ready to engage in and what your own objectives and strategies are. Once you answer that question, then have a look through this list — and I think it'll be a lot clearer which social network is the right one for you.

I'd love to hear your opinions — which of these considerations are most important to you? Are there any key ones I've missed? Do you agree with my assessments of which network is strongest for each criteria in Europe? And are there other networks I didn't talk about that excel in helping marketers reach their goals?

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Comments

re: How European Social Marketers Should Choose a Social Networ

Hi Nate,Congratulations on your first post.This is a nice outline of what a Marketer should consider when deciding on which social network(s) to use.You allude to the more important question they should answer in your second bullet. Not only should the marketer determine what they consider to be success, they must also understand the best way to engage with the members of the network.Taking the equivalent of a print ad or a banner and slapping it on a facebook page is not always (ever?) the best approach.The NY Times reports that traditional marketers are having a rough time with social networks and the reason is predominantly because they are using 'traditional' methods.Marketers need to develop a way to break through all the clutter of the network and engage with the users.It will happen. There are smart people and they figure these things out.I look forward to your future posts.Mike

re: How European Social Marketers Should Choose a Social Networ

Nate,Good kickoff piece, welcome to the blog.As I'm sure you'll agree, these few walled garden social networks are actually a small piece of the overall social media & social network ecosystem.And the types of marketing we do in them very much like traditional media --- with perhaps even worse recall, CTR & overall efficiencies given that most of us are not hanging out in Facebook to "be monetized".A truly robust social media / social network program for a brand should include - if appropriate - social media distribution (think apps, widgets, podcasts that can be launched within ad units but then saved/shared); viral emails; social network brand agent participation (think monitoring and responding to comments on Yahoo Answers, Gizmodo, BoyGeniusReport); sentiment tracking / shifting; social community building (Forrester's infamous Groundswell cases, e.g. Dell) and even social network influencer activation (think recruiting & supporting brand advocates).All of these type of programs/campaigns - if fully rationalized and risk mitigated - can and should be part of a truly integrated, ROI-accountable social network strategy for almost any major brand.Thanks for posting, keep it up!Thom

re: How European Social Marketers Should Choose a Social Networ

Mike and Thom, thanks very much for the comments.Mike, you make a great point about how marketers need to be more engaging in social networks. I published a report earlier this year that found that far too few European marketers were engaging users in social networks -- most were just shouting at them with videos and other broadcast content -- and I know Jeremiah found the same thing in his US-focused 'Best and Worst of Social Network Marketing' report. The good news is, the social networks are working from the same playbook as us here, and really encouraging marketers to engage more -- and from what I've seen anecdotally, more and more marketers are listening.Thom, I agree that social networks are just one part of social media -- there are a lot of other options out there, and advertisers need to make sure that marketing in a social network is really the best way to find their users and reach their objectives -- but I'd stop short of calling them a 'small piece' of the ecosystem. Branded microsites, niche and white-label social networks, and viral marketing campaigns can all be very useful -- but for many advertisers, the big mainstream social networks are still the best place to gain access to lots of users. Where else but MySpace could UK broadcaster e4 have found almost 150,000 people willing to befriend a TV show? Could BBC radio DJ Chris Moyles have found half a million fans anywhere but Facebook? Of course engaging massive numbers of users isn't the goal for everyone -- and I agree marketers should look at other options too -- but if advertisers are looking to connect with a huge number of people, the big social networks remain one of their best options.

re: How European Social Marketers Should Choose a Social Networ

Interesting post (don't come across many European-focused posts like this on social media).

re: How European Social Marketers Should Choose a Social Networ

To follow up on this -- just before Christmas, TechCrunch posted an interesting head-to-head comparison of the ROI one advertiser achieved using the self-service ad tools from Facebook and MySpace.It was a relatively small test (the advertiser spent $3120 on Facebook and just $225 on Facebook), so I'd take the data with a grain of salt. But the commentary, and some of the comments, offer some interesting insight into small advertisers' experiences with the two platforms.