Microsoft is urging marketers to take social networking more seriously after a report by research company Jupiter revealed that 70% of consumers are willing to accept ads on personal web pages.
The computer giant says advertisers should offer consumers free content or goods, such as holidays, in return for a presence on their sites.
Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions planning and development director for EMEA, Michael Steckler, says brands have "avoided" socialnetworking websites because they do not understand them.
By contrast, he points to offline social networking as a growing "word of mouth" marketing trend. Last month, Group M, WPP’s media operation, formed a partnership with US-based word-of-mouth marketing agency BzzAgent, which will allow it to offer clients campaigns via a network of "buzz" volunteers.
Advertising on social-networking websites can be closely targeted, with car marques appearing on fansites or tour operators in holiday or travel blogs.
Microsoft plans to encourage brands to advertise on its Windows Live Spaces, which has a 5.6% share of the UK’s social-networking market, behind MySpace, Bebo and Pixar.
Steckler predicts such marketing, which has been highly publicised but remains a small part of internet spend, will grow rapidly. Research by Jupiter suggests that blogging is doubling every six months.