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?