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Marketers tapping into social networks

Jeremy Nedelka
Rather than compete with Web sites like MySpace and Facebook, some marketers are embracing the technology to better connect with customers. Increasingly, companies are in the business of creating their own social networks instead of using existing ones.

"Depending on your brand and goals, owning a social network site can bring in an audience, contain them, and allow you to speak to them whenever you want," said Rachel Honig, chief operating officer of Digital Power & Light (DP&L), a digital marketing firm. MyColts.net is an attempt by the Indianapolis Colts to capitalize on the huge popularity of its NFL franchise after winning the Super Bowl earlier this year. The social networking site, designed by Colts Director of Internet Services A.J. Macht, will give fans a place to interact and express their devotion to the team.

Right now the site is just a preview, but fans who already network on Colts.com through the fan forum are invited to be the first users when the site goes live later this year. So far 12,000 people have preregistered for the site, which will allow users to create profiles, upload pictures and videos, blog about the Colts, and plan events with other fans.

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"We know from our statistics that Colts.com had more than seven million unique visitors last year," sid Pat Coyle, Colts' executive director of digital business. "As many as 80% of those fans visited at least once a week during the season."

By approaching visitors to the official

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Colts Web site through its fan forum section, Coyle and Macht learned that fans want camaraderie, consistency, visibility, and access. The forum isn't able to satisfy those four demands the way a social network will. Coyle says MyColts will be specifically designed to give fans what they've asked for.

The Colts are among such brand names as Nike, USA Network, and Coca-Cola whose goal is to create that camaraderie and buzz about their brand in particular. Other organizations are more focused on getting their customers together around other common interests.

Muscledog.com is one such site. A company in the health and fitness industry worked with DP&L to create Muscledog.com, a site where potential customers interested in bodybuilding can create profiles to share with other Muscledog.com members and interact in forums on fitness-related topics, and where this firm can post its own ads and sell ad space to others. There is intentionally no mention of the brand on the site because the company wishes to remain anonymous.

"At this point they're allowing their community a place to get together, share tips, post photos or video, and build relationships," DP&L's Honig said. "By doing that they'll also own the names and identifying information of all the bodybuilders on the site." That information will then be used to create buzz for new products and marketing events through email.

Whether the community is there in support of a brand or a common interest, gathering information on participants not only helps organizations better understand enthusiasts, but also helps to build loyalty by providing them with a community of peers.

"This site lets us offer a benefit to the fan for telling us who they are," Coyle said. "We're adding value to their lives so that they will hopefully be more loyal to the team."

Reprinted with permission from 1to1 Media. (c) 2006 Carlson Marketing Worldwide.


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