The progress of social networks will lead to the rise of ‘super advocates' who will have the power to make or break a brand's reputation in 2008, according to research by information company Experian.
Experian suggests that super advocates, its monicker for highly influential, outspoken figures, will create one of the biggest challenges to companies trying to tap into user-generated content for advertising and marketing purposes.
Such figures will supposedly have a huge online following of people keen to know their thoughts on a company, its products or problems that they have encountered.
The 'Impact of Social Networking in the UK' report recommends that companies quickly identify super advocates and use any means to keep these influential figures on side. Experian suggests companies will need to make a conscious effort to avoid commercialism "at all costs" and provide highly exclusive information to help win super advocates' respect.
The report also predicts that the use of social networks for viral and search marketing will increase during 2008 following the improvement of the search and navigation capabilities of social networking sites, which will make websites' content more accessible to marketers.
Experian suggests that site owners will drive these developments with the aim of opening up their platforms to third parties and increasing profits via permission-based advertising.
Robin Goad, co-author of the report and research director of Experian's internet statistics firm Hitwise, said: "At the end of 2007, social networks accounted for 7.7% of all internet traffic sent to other websites.
"As the functionality and accessibility to the information they hold improves, this figure will only increase during 2008. Easier access to this data will mean that marketers can use it to better target their social media messages, gaining better quality business leads and greater value from their social media marketing investment."
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