Posted on March 13, 2008
Filed Under Marketing 2.0 |
Even Google can’t monetize social networks. But that hasn’t stopped AOL from making an $850 million bet on social networks as an advertising platform as it was that AOL has acquired popular social network Bebo. Bebo has approximately 40 million users and is most popular in the UK.
As reported by Allen Stern at CenterNetworks, during AOL’s conference call, questions were asked about advertising and how AOL planned to deal with the fact that most social network users just don’t seem to be interested in the advertising. The response: AOL will use “engagement advertising.”
Is AOL incredibly brilliant or incredibly stupid? Probably the latter.
While we don’t have many details yet about what engagement advertising specifically entails in this case, I think it’s perfectly safe to predict that it will fail for AOL. Social networks are not ideal advertising platforms for a number of logical reasons and it reflects in the .
A few things I think are worth noting based on Allen Stern’s conference call notes:
- If AOL thinks buying a social network is “game changing,” it’s got real problems.
- AOL’s talk of supercharging advertising is naive at best and downright idiotic at worst. Does anybody really believe that AOL has social network advertising figured out when nobody else has? The notion that Platform A is the solution doesn’t seem to make sense. Platform A hasn’t been around that long and I’d be very surprised if it was a well-oiled machine at this stage of the game, especially given the fact that Platform A’s president was just fired.
- AOL talks about the engagement advertising model that Bebo supposedly “pioneered” yet refuses to reveal Bebo’s financials. Question: if Bebo’s engagement advertising model is so appealing and successful, why wouldn’t AOL release Bebo’s financials so that we can see just how many advertisers are buying into this model?
- If Randy Falco really compared this acquisition to Google/DoubleClick and Microsoft/aQuantive, you have to wonder.
While I don’t doubt that there are potential integration synergies between ICQ and AIM as noted by AOL, they’re not worth $850 million, and I question just how strongly they can be leveraged to real effect. I’m just not sure what it really does for the end user and I’m just not sure what it really does for AOL.
It will be interesting to see how many changes AOL is compelled to make as it implements these integrations and tries to better monetize a property that was almost certainly facing the same monetization difficulties of its much larger competitors.
When News Corp. purchased MySpace, it was able to withstand any temptation to make drastic changes. Will AOL have the common sense and wherewithal to do the same? It will be interesting to find out.
Kudos are, of course, due to Bebo’s founders and team for selling a Brooklyn Bridge to a company that is challenged by “intense pressure from Wall Street, slowed revenue growth and apparent management dysfunction.” Coupled with the troubles other social networks and the wider economic landscape and I think it’s hard to argue that AOL couldn’t have picked a worse time to overpay for a company that offers nothing truly innovative and may not have long-term staying power.
AOL’s prospects with Bebo also don’t look too positive when one considers that the two companies which have arguably made the poorest investments in social networks - Microsoft and Google - reportedly passed on Bebo. And most importantly, the company that has arguably made the best investment in a social network - News Corp. - wasn’t interested either. So AOL gets stuck with something the top players didn’t want and thinks it won a prize. What else is new?
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