MySpace…Friendster…Facebook…Classmates…Youtube…LinkedIn…MyFamily…no mat­ter where you look, Social Net­work­ing is becom­ing a head­liner for Web 2.0. Even if you don’t use these sites your­self, you surely know many peo­ple that do. Case in point, of the seven I men­tion above, I use four today. In short, social net­work­ing is pervasive.

And while these online com­mu­nity sites are per­haps the most rec­og­nized form of Social Net­work­ing, they are by no means the only form of social net­work­ing. User-generated prod­uct rat­ings are emerg­ing as a pow­er­ful influ­encer in the pur­chase fun­nel – so pow­er­ful that inno­v­a­tive com­pa­nies like Bizaar­Voice are con­sol­i­dat­ing and syn­di­cat­ing this con­tent. Blogs are another great social net­work­ing exam­ple, allow­ing one per­son to reach — and influ­ence — thou­sands if not mil­lions of indi­vid­u­als. That is extra­or­di­nary power. And there are many other exam­ples of social net­work­ing on the Web, with new ones sprout­ing up every day.

Any way you slice it social net­work­ing is white hot – lever­ag­ing the very fab­ric of an increas­ingly dig­i­tal soci­ety to thrive and grow expo­nen­tially. And with its intox­i­cat­ing mix of extreme cus­tomer stick­i­ness, deep loy­alty, and unde­ni­able pur­chase influ­ence, mar­keters are being drawn to social net­work­ing like moths to a flame. They are invest­ing mil­lions, in most cases with­out mea­sur­able results or a clear idea of success.

With this mind, I want to share some thoughts and best prac­tices in social net­work­ing opti­miza­tion that I hope will help you hit the ground run­ning and avoid get­ting too close that flame.

When I think about social net­work­ing mea­sure­ment, I do not see just one oppor­tu­nity – rather I see three. Each of these dif­fer in focus, breadth, and strat­egy – form­ing what are really three dif­fer­ent schools of opti­miza­tion. They are:

1) Adver­tis­ing
2) Expe­ri­ence
3) Customer

Adver­tis­ing is focused on mea­sur­ing both the direct and indi­rect suc­cess of adver­tis­ing cam­paigns that are run on social net­work­ing sites such as MySpace or Classmates.

Expe­ri­ence takes a much dif­fer­ent view and exam­ines the influ­ence a par­tic­u­lar fea­ture, tool, or asset can have on the over­all success.

Cus­tomer looks at how par­tic­u­lar indi­vid­u­als influ­ence over­all busi­ness suc­cess and the social net­work func­tion itself.

In this blog post­ing, I’ll focus on the Adver­tis­ing piece. In parts two and three, I’ll cover Expe­ri­ence opti­miza­tion and Cus­tomer opti­miza­tion, respectively.

At a basic level, mea­sur­ing the effec­tive­ness of social net­work­ing adver­tis­ing isn’t much dif­fer­ent from mea­sur­ing other forms of online adver­tis­ing. For exam­ple, let’s say you run a ban­ner ad on MySpace that high­lights a new movie you are releas­ing to mar­ket. You want to under­stand how many peo­ple click on this ban­ner, visit your site, and ulti­mately con­vert to buy the movie. To do this, you tag the ad, record it in Omni­ture Site­Cat­a­lyst – per­haps add some meta data such as the ad type, site name, land­ing page, etc – and you’re good to go. Focus on the ads that work, cut or refine the ones that don’t and gen­er­ally speak­ing, you’re set.

But in my mind, social net­work­ing is much more inter­est­ing than that. When you run a pro­mo­tion on a social net­work­ing site, you are not only attempt­ing to start a dia­logue with your direct tar­get audi­ence. You are also attempt­ing to start a dia­logue with all of their friends, fam­ily, and col­leagues. In other words, the mem­bers of your net­work and theirs as well. If some­thing appeals to your ini­tial tar­get, they will very likely for­ward it/refer it/endorse it within their net­work. This appeal may be direct, such as “Yes, I’m inter­ested in that movie” or indi­rect, such as “That movie isn’t for me, but my brother would love it” – but in either case, it pays div­i­dends. The power of refer­rals is aston­ish­ing – espe­cially bad ones.

But you still may be scratch­ing your head. Refer­rals and endorse­ments aren’t new to mar­ket­ing. “I’ve for­warded plenty of pro­mo­tions to my friends” you might be say­ing. True, the con­cept isn’t new. But what is new is the dis­tri­b­u­tion channel…the pipeline so to speak. With social net­work­ing, we’ve taken a great leap for­ward in our abil­ity to eas­ily and direct cor­re­spond with those peo­ple we often have the most influ­ence over. As a mar­keter tap­ping into this oasis of cred­i­bil­ity, you don’t get much closer to print­ing money than that.

So when approach­ing social net­work­ing adver­tis­ing, it’s crit­i­cal that you keep this in mind. Remem­ber, don’t just impress your date – impress their par­ents too. I believe when adver­tis­ing on social net­work­ing sites, the “sec­ondary audi­ence” is just as impor­tant – if not more impor­tant – than your pri­mary audi­ence. I know some folks will dis­agree, but that’s my opin­ion and I wel­come your feedback.

To add fuel to the fire, I also believe this phe­nom­e­non is more pro­nounced today than ever. Why? Because most social net­work­ing sites are still strug­gling to effec­tively tar­get their audi­ence. There are many rea­sons for this, but look­ing back on my own expe­ri­ence with one of the Internet’s largest com­mu­nity sites (eGroups had over 20 mil­lion mem­bers and accounted for 5% of the world’s email vol­ume), it’s really an issue of scal­a­bil­ity, ad serv­ing, and segmentation.

Sim­ply put, it’s really hard to serve highly tar­geted ads to mil­lions of users in real-time with­out degrad­ing the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence. In fact, up until Touch Clar­ity came into the mar­ket, it was nearly impos­si­ble. Not only are the tech­nol­ogy lim­i­ta­tions; but from an ad serv­ing per­spec­tive, we often don’t have an effi­cient mar­ket­place to expose such inven­tory to prospect adver­tis­ers. And because of this, if you’re adver­tis­ing on social net­work­ing sites, chances are you have more of a “spray and pray” approach than true “1:1” cus­tomer dia­logues that most mar­ket­ing books will chas­tise you for not achiev­ing. Let’s face it — the mar­ket just hasn’t been there– it hasn’t been there for years — and as a result, the power of the “sec­ondary audi­ence” has become that much more mean­ing­ful if you want to max­i­mize your suc­cess with social net­work­ing advertising.

So how do you opti­mize this social net­work­ing adver­tis­ing then? Great ques­tion. There are many dif­fer­ent ways, depend­ing on your cam­paign type, call to action, and tar­get audi­ence. I can’t sum­ma­rize them all here. But to get you started, here are a few tactics:

1) Use dis­count or coupon codes – this is one of the most tried and true meth­ods of multi-channel mar­ket­ing mea­sure­ment, and social net­work­ing cam­paigns are no exception.

2) Use micro-sites and redi­rects to iden­tify new prospects – Micro-sites and redi­rects, how ever brief, offer a great oppor­tu­nity to iden­tify new prospects and begin your dia­logue with them. There are many inno­v­a­tive exam­ples of this mar­ket­ing tac­tic, and even the briefest of exchanges can expose sig­nif­i­cant remar­ket­ing opportunities.

3) Lever­age inte­grated ana­lyt­ics and beha­vo­r­ial tar­get­ing – Advanced inte­gra­tions like Omni­ture Site­Cat­a­lyst and Touch Clar­ity offer unpar­al­leled oppor­tu­ni­ties to deliver highly effec­tive mar­ket­ing cam­paigns. Look for Social Net­work­ing sites that are deploy­ing this type of inte­grated solution.

So to recap, social net­work­ing is highly dynamic and Mar­ket­ing 2.0 is rapidly evolv­ing to take advan­tage of the emerg­ing medium. As a mar­keter, you have the oppor­tu­nity to reach mil­lions with a sense of cred­i­bil­ity that has sel­dom pre­sented itself in the his­tory of mar­ket­ing. But as a mar­keter, you also have an oblig­a­tion to mea­sure and opti­mize this new medium like never before. The poten­tial is there, the tools are avail­able; the ques­tion is how effec­tively can you take advan­tage of this oppor­tu­nity? That is your com­pet­i­tive advan­tage and will define the win­ners and losers in this arena. Of course, if you have any ques­tions about social net­work­ing opti­miza­tion, we’d be happy to help – just reach out to your Omni­ture account rep­re­sen­ta­tive or con­tact us directly at Omni­ture Best Practices.