How Brands Can “Buy” Social Media

This isn’t a religious post, so if you’re a social media purist, I hope you can have an objective viewpoint about what is happening, before deciding on what’s right and wrong.

Although many brands are launching blog or community based to engage in conversations with customers, many other brands are starting to participate by ‘purchasing’ their way into social media. The benefits are obvious; brands can quickly with often guaranteed results to their social media budget, especially if measured on page views. Yet the risks are also great as brands may miss out on the potential relationship building derived from employees talking directly to customers. For some brands, I expect this to be a supplement, and additive to get more milage, for existing social media activities.

How Brands Can “Buy” Social Media

Advertisements: Nothing new here, from purchasing Google ads, cutting individual deals with blogs that cover your industry, or going to third party advertising networks like B5, Six Apart, Federated Media, Glam, or any other emerging network such as Technorati Media, launched today.

Sponsorships: Brands seeking longer term marketing gains can sponsor a popular media asset and benefit from association with an affinity. That’s marketing speak for ‘we’re like them, so you should like us’. I’ve seen some sponsorships that make a lot of sense such as Seagate and Scoble (he creates a lot of media, and his community does too, perfect fit for a personal data storage company) or the variety of places GoDaddy has appeared within the web community. Media networks such as Rev 3, Techcrunch networks, and fledgling Fast Company are examples in the tech industry.

Social Media Optimization Perhaps the most nefarious, or least understood, is the opportunity to purchase services from SEO firms that have retrained their skills to increase natural search ability for your assets, get your content on delicious, stumbleupon. I know of a few brands have been able to purchase their way onto While some may be critical of this activity, the upside is that these brands really want to get in front of this audience, so likely, they’ll be pointing to something worthwhile.

If you can think of other ways that brands can purchase their way into social media (without having to roll up the sleeves) leave a comment below.

Also read: The Many Forms of Web Marketing for 2008. Also read the blog economy, with additional links to networks and vendors.

32 Replies to “How Brands Can “Buy” Social Media”

  1. Myspace also did an amazing job of this from a reverse perspective in their ‘sponsorship’ of such things like the Vans Warped Tour. They sought to strengthen their ‘media asset’ by associating with the touring music festival.

  2. If ‘hiring a decent blogger’ can be seen as buying your way into Social Media then I’d say that is certainly a way to do it too.

    I was recently fortunate enough to take part in a panel session by Fleishman Hillard discussing the merits of Digital Influence.. I made an impassioned plea to the people in the room asking them to seek out the untapped knowledge base that is hidden away in the blogosphere.

    When I say ‘hire a blogger’, I don’t mean: ‘hire someone to blog’ I mean ‘hire someone who is already blogging, be up front about their new employment and allow them to represent your brand in their social media spaces’.

    Does that make sense?
    Could that be interpreted as ‘buying your way into social media’ ?

  3. Just saw an example of another method this morning. You can co-opt an existing, topically-relevant social media site into one of your brand properties.

    I’ve been a member of web 2.0 diet and exercise site TheDailyPlate for a while now, and today I got an email telling me that it’s been incorporated, en masse, into Lance Armstrong’s new site.

    Another example of this technique that springs to mind is when EA Games bought popular karaoke site SingShot and turned it into “Sims on Stage.”

  4. Sorry Jeremiah, this statement is nearly 100% incorrect. “I know of a few brands have been able to purchase their way onto While some may be critical of this activity, the upside is that these brands really want to get in front of this audience, so likely, they™ll be pointing to something worthwhile.”

    The sites I’ve seen pay to get on Digg and the other social sites are not doing it to get in front of the Digg crowd believing their product or service is right for them.


  5. I think Polly Pearson, Vice President, Employment Brand and Strategy Engagement, is doing a really interesting job getting EMC people to deliver their stories to each other. The Visual Talk Radio Show is her platform. She states, “At EMC, we believe that information is a business™s most important asset. Ideas”and the people who come up with them”are the only real differentiators.” The resulting good feeling is opening the organization, building a team atmosphere and defining the place of work. While this is not build of market beyond their walls yet, it certainly is creating a defining culture within. I am sure it will be used to recruit and retain and ultimately be used outside the organization in some marketing manner. Already the bloggers within are singing praises. Give people a voice and they will sing.

  6. The risk of having employees communicate directly with customers is less of a risk than having your customers discover that that paid editorial comment was presented as genuine, unsolicited commentary.

    Even if the blogger is paid and transparent about it, is there really any substitute for real relationship building between employees and customers?

    The real challenge is finding the person inside the company that can answer questions accurately and honestly without bashing their brand when the customer has a legitimate gripe.

  7. Allen Stern of Centernetworks

    Give me a reason why you don’t agree, I’m still not following your argument bud.

    (Oh, I’ll be in NYC next week, hope we can catch up)

  8. Yea let’s totally catchup!

    It’s simple – companies buy their way onto Digg for the link potential – to help with the organic side. I haven’t heard many (maybe none) examples where a company has bought their way onto Digg so that they can promote their product to the Digg crowd. If you have specific companies who have, why not list them out?

    Also – it should be noted that reasons 1 and 2 above are “legit” while reason 3 could very well be considered blackhat – I’d sep. them in your methods. Remember you have a big box now and lots of people who listen to you words and ideas – wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.

  9. Andy makes a great point – widgets should be on the list – we spoke about this at GSP extensively – create a widget that has a high level of “viralness” and then seed it.

  10. A good list but as mentioned above, widgets are crucial.

    Viral ads/games that can be embedded/shared are also useful. Though one can’t buy them onto social software in the strictest sense – the power is with the people on that method

  11. Yes widgets but also follow what zappos is doing, create a twitter room, a friendfeed room or a facebook group and just watch a bit. This may not be “buying” into social media but it is at basically no cost or effort. You will get some initial buzz but then you can learn where to go next. However, I see many clients not initiate conversations or respond to things being said in these places and then the participants get discouraged and leave. That results in lost relationships.

  12. Thanks for all the feedback here. I consider a widget a medium, where advertising or sponsorship could ‘perch’ on top of it, therefore it doesn’t make sense to list out.

  13. Design, build, and release a software application that lives on the Internet and creates value for potential or current customers.

    (Nike+, etc)

  14. I get calls all the time from folks looking for short cuts (but that’s not what we do). But typically they are smaller firms, with fewer dollars. Most of the larger brands I talk with want to do it right… Or at least 1/2 the people on the team do, the other half want to compare it to PPC two weeks into it…

    I thought CokeTags was a good try and, while it probably won’t take off, I think it might be a part of something: brands sponsoring useful widgets as a trade off. Sort of building your own ad platform that people choose to embed…


  15. Hi Jeremiah

    I would like to highlight some of our work with American Express and their Blog at OPEN Forum.

    Also, our work with ReGeneration and Dell. Specifically the channel that we created on their site that ported all the work from Facebook with user’s permission. in this case, people wanted to join the movement and wanted their work featured to show how they were making a difference and to also inspire change.

  16. How about just participating on social media? Engaging in such forums is the first step in “creating a customer”. It’s been shown that most young shoppers rely on blogs and social media sites to make their purchasing decisions.

  17. Its not about the brands, its about the users. Companies who view social networks as a platform for straight advertising I think have missed the point – if you can provide information (content and tools) that are of interest to you target market, you are likely to capture mindshare – if not, you will be bypassed like those thousands of other ad and brand messages we all ignore every day.

Comments are closed.