Is “friending” the new advertising?

Liz Gannes at GigaOm points to an interesting study done by MySpace about the value of “friending” as a marketing vehicle. It’s obvious that the survey of 3,000 Internet users was done primarily to justify the use of MySpace as an advertising and marketing tool, although the press release takes pains to point out (as they always do) that it was done by an independent firm, etc., etc.

snipshot_e4r2xrmvupr.jpgThe survey results were released, coincidentally enough, at a Fox Interactive Media event called “Never Ending Friending,” a conference for FIM marketing clients. In other words, the results should be taken with an industrial-sized bag of salt (Pete Cashmore seems to agree). After wading through a forest of typical press release verbiage — about things like the “Momentum Effect,” a new “metric” coined by one of the survey companies that is apparently right up there with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle in importance — you get to the real money quote for marketers and advertisers, which is that:

“According to the study, more than 40% of all social networkers said they use social networking sites to learn more about brands or products that they like, and 28% said at some point a friend has recommended a brand or product to them.”

It’s not surprising that marketers are looking for ways of insinuating themselves into social networks such as MySpace (hopefully in somewhat more subtle ways than just creating profile pages for their lame mascots, like Burger King did), but what’s interesting to me is that 40 per cent of those surveyed said they use social networks to learn more about brands or products.

Is that statistic itself just marketing hype? Not according to Adidas, which found that its MySpace campaign for its soccer products “increased purchase intent 78 percent, brand image 71 percent and likelihood to recommend 57 percent.” Electronic Arts got a lot of bang for its buck too, says Forbes.

There are some other nuggets in the survey too, including one that might make TV advertisers sit up and take notice. The study says that social networking users spend 11 hours online per week compared to just 9.4 hours watching TV. And while heavy social network users still watch TV, 68 percent said their favorite time to visit social networks is during prime-time TV viewing hours.

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