Brands risk losing hard-earned fans if Bebo is closed

Bebo’s potential closure could leave advertisers, including the COI, with a community of fans they can’t migrate to another platform.

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Last week Bebo parent company AOL announced it will close the social network if it can’t find a buyer by May. It said increased competition had left the company unable to continue funding the site.

The closure could force brands and agencies running campaigns on Bebo to migrate their fans elsewhere or risk wasting their investment.

Zaid Al-Zaidy, managing partner at digital agency Saint, which has run the COI’s knife-crime campaign for over three years, said it would have to try to move the 11,500 fans accumulated on Bebo elsewhere.

“Can we take the community and nurture them elsewhere? Probably not,” he said. “Authentic communities don’t grow through push and that growth can’t be replicated overnight.”

But a spokeswoman for the COI, the UK’s biggest spending advertiser, said it wouldn’t be affected too much. “The media landscape is constantly evolving. The COI is designed to flex to changes in the media landscape as and when they occur,” she said.

Other brands with a presence on Bebo, including Samsung with more than 4,000 fans and Coca-Cola with almost 2,000, could also be forced to transfer them to other sites.

Ilana Fox, former ASOS social media manager and partner at Spoke Digital, advised brands affected by the closure of a community site to ask the community where they want to go.

“Communities don’t like change so you have to involve them in the decision,” she said. “Ask them whether they’d prefer to speak to you on Facebook, MySpace or on a custom community site instead.”

UK digital industry experts said the potential closure of Bebo is a missed opportunity by AOL, citing the site’s strengths as being able to deliver a hard-to-reach audience and providing ad opportunities not offered by other youth sites.
Ian MacArthur, creative director and head of brand marketing at the NSPCC, a brand which has carried out campaigns on Bebo, said AOL had mismanaged the platform.

“Children and young people flock to spaces that give them ideas and freedom,” he said. “Big companies sometimes join the acquisition race out of fear but aren’t structured to change their business behaviour in driving that acquisition forward at the pace its audience requires.”
Last year Samsung ran a campaign on Bebo which included an online video show called Beat. Ed Turner, head of media at i-level, which developed the campaign, said, “There are lots of social spaces where you can reach a youth audience but for high-end content there’ll be a gap.”

Despite Bebo’s championing by the industry, audience figures have fallen sharply over the past two years. According to figures from Nielsen Online, Bebo’s audience has fallen from 4.6m UK users in February 2008 to just 1.8m last February. ComScore figures show a 60% drop in visits over the past year, from just over 9.5m users in February 2009 to 3.8m in February 2010.

Justin Taylor, managing partner at media agency MEC Interaction, said, “Putting aside its dwindling user figures, Bebo’s transition into the AOL portfolio was never smooth and was confusing for agencies. This led to reduced selling, especially of some of Bebo’s more bespoke features.”

This story first appeared on www.nma.co.uk

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