Turning online relationships into cash

Advertisers are offering social networkers the chance to mention brands for money.
Twitter or Facebook users are increasingly able to turn their popularity into cash. iStockp
hoto
Twitter or Facebook users are increasingly able to turn their popularity into cash. iStockp hoto

It's hard to remember now, but there was a time before online social networking. Since then, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and, most recently, the online pinboard Pinterest have woven themselves through our daily lives with terrifying efficiency. No wonder that new implications continue to emerge.

The latest? If you're a big noise on social networks, major brands could soon be in contact. Not to push you products; to ask, instead, if you'll feature those products in your photographs, videos, or status updates. For a fee, of course. Think of it as "fanvertising": the most potent signal yet of the new ways in which brands are angling to leverage the peer-to-peer influence allowed by online social networks.

Among those surfing the crest of this trend is a new company called Instagrid Network. Launched in February with the aim of connecting big brands with popular users of the photo-sharing app Instagram, the platform has already signed up partners such as Marc Jacobs and Lacoste, eager to access Instagram's 25 million users.

Instagrid Network co-founder George Sylvain says he expects popular Instagrammers will make between US$50 (Dh184) and $500 for posting brand-relevant photographs. Attend a corporate event and take snaps, and they could get $2,000.

Meanwhile, the ad platform agency MyLikes, which connects users of YouTube and Twitter to advertisers, now has more than 370,000 members willing to sell their services to the right brand.

Fanvertising is a uniquely telling trend. At the heart of its emergence are forces that have transformed our relationship with media, consumerism, and each other: some new, some decades old.

Among those changes is the online revolution that has turned us all into content producers, with a potential audience of billions for our photos, videos and text.

It's a radical shift in the media landscape that means that today many of us are just as likely to watch a friend's "My Cute Cat" video as we are an episode of The X Factor.

That's a problem for the big brands who are desperate for a slice of our attention.

Another is a longer-running, societal shift towards the pre-eminence of the individual, and the democratisation of taste.

Put simply, it means we're increasingly sceptical of any top-down attempts to influence our thinking, whether they come from politicians or academics, or Coca-Cola and Nike.

In the peer-to-peer connectivity of online social networking, the big brands hope they've found their answer. Here is a way to put themselves back on the radar when it comes to young, affluent consumers. But also - and this is the real magic - to associate themselves with the warm, fuzzy feelings we have for the friends we know, like, and communicate with often.

Evidence is, it works: MyLikes says that ads made by its users are clicked on between 20 and 50 times more often than conventional online ads.

No doubt, then, that big brands will continue to find new ways of piggybacking on our online friendships. To some, it's another sign of consumer culture's invasion into every part of our lives. For others, though, it will mean a fast buck. So are you ready for your Christmas Photograph Album, sponsored by McDonald's?

Published: May 7, 2012 04:00 AM

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