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Third largest social network offers social discovery to users who average 14 minutes per sessionWhile the head-on competition between MySpace, Facebook and Twitter stays hot, Tagged is in the backdrop building its user base by hundreds of thousands every week. The company’s revenue stream is sourced from ad networks as well as direct sales, and unlike many social networks, is profitable.
I interviewed Steve Sarner, Vice President of Sales, to learn how Tagged is positioned in the market and ways brands are leveraging their loyal audience. Previously, Sarner was at Fox Interactive Media (FIM) where he was responsible for integrated sales across FIM's properties, including MySpace, IGN, Photobucket and others.
Watson: According to your website, Tagged is the third largest social networking site with 80 million registered users. How would you describe the community and culture?
Sarner: Correct – comScore measures Tagged as the third largest social network in the U.S. in terms of total monthly visits as well as one of the most engaging, with an average user session of about 14 minutes. People use Tagged differently than better known social networks since we focus on social discovery – or making new friends. Other networks are designed to keep in touch with people you already know. We’re about future relationships. Our site attracts a wide variety of people mainly in their 20’s and 30’s who are typically single, curious, self-expressive and adventurous.
Watson: Why do you think the site has received such little press in comparison to its close competitors?
Sarner: Over the last several years we’ve been quietly focused on growing users and engagement rather than issuing press releases and attending industry events. It’s been a matter of focus and it has paid off because unlike many social networks, we’re solidly profitable with a diverse revenue model. In addition, we aren’t widely used by people in media and the press who tend to write about things they know and use.
But, we aren’t alone in the lack of media attention which tends to flow to Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. There are many other social networks – not necessarily as large as Tagged but still important - that cater to unique segments and user passions such as MyYearbook for teenagers, imeem for music sharing, Flixster for movies and even Dogster for dog owners. They don’t get very much press either.
Watson: What kinds of unique programs and campaigns are you creating for advertising clients?
Sarner: Tagged offers a complete portfolio of ad products and unique targeting. In addition we provide extensive customized integration opportunities. Often the best way to market in a social media environment is to take a complete opposite approach from typical advertising methods. For instance, it is better to be invited versus intrusive so aligning as a value-add element in the actual flow and special features of a social site makes great sense.
Popular special activities and features on Tagged include sending virtual gifts and TAGS, both of which are user-generated graphics and represent two opportunities for advertisers to integrate into the user experience. We have hundreds of thousands of user created TAGS, Gifts and Skins and more than 10 million are sent daily between members. Featuring brand advertisers in this environment with their target audience is just one example of how to take advantage of a social network activity to uniquely connect brands with consumers. And they also can enjoy a huge viral explosion beyond the specific elements of a media plan or marketing campaign too. Those are just two examples; the possibilities are truly limitless.
Watson: I hear many publishers and social media executives complain about an ad’s click-through rate (CTR) being a poor indicator of a display campaign’s effectiveness. What other metrics are you presenting to clients?
Sarner: There’s a lot of debate on click-through rate, as you know. For a social network it goes beyond the user mindset and includes the fact that people within social media consume exponentially more page views than a traditional content site. So it really is comparing apples to oranges. Tagged is a charter member of the new Social Media Advertising Consortium (SMAC) which includes most leaders in the space and is working on developing specialized standards and metrics around social media. Measuring things like the viral factor and time spent interacting within special sub communities or custom profiles are examples of alternative and more meaningful metrics to quantify social media marketing successes.
Watson: I’m a member of SMAC as well, and hope that we can soon confirm and publish some new metrics.
It seems that the two biggest complaints about Tagged are the recent registration process error that caused thousands of users to mistakenly send invitations to all members in their address books, and spam bots that grab user profile information and spam user walls. What is management doing to improve these issues and change the public sentiment?
Sarner: One of these issues, the registration process error, has been resolved and Tagged is committed to having a very clear and industry leading sign-up and invitation process. We are sorry for the confusion some experienced a few months ago and have worked diligently to rectify the situation. I am happy to say that it has been resolved and this problem is behind us.
In terms of spam within social networks, it’s an ongoing problem and a reflection of our size and scope. Spammers don't waste time with small sites – they want to go where the people are and that is certainly the case with sites like Facebook, MySpace and Tagged. We have a dedicated engineering team focused on the issue of safety, security and anti-spamming. Furthermore, we provide 24-7 customer care support and are both proactively and reactively addressing these issues. We are also active within the industry to share and work together to mitigate and hopefully stop the problem. The bottom-line is we want people to have a positive experience with Tagged; our numbers and financials show that we’ve been successful so far and our commitment to a great site and user experience is stronger than ever.
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