Even failed ventures provide value for online marketing

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I may be at risk of upsetting the ROI lobby with this state­ment, but I have to tip my hat to the marketers who took the plunge into the social media world, and failed.

The Wall Street Journal last week analyzed the year since Facebook opened its development doors, reporting that more than 250,000 developers have taken the bait. There is a long tail of relative success, with only a few applications reaching the tipping point of mass adoption. This means that for all the Flixsters, there are thousands of applications that fell flat. But a short-term failure to make money and improve relationships through social networking doesn't mean a marketer's efforts have gone to waste.

I've sat in many a meeting at DM agency creative depart­ments, where staffers have enthusiastically shared the thinking behind their latest Facebook widget. Few, if any, of these have gone on to achieve Flixster-style success, but all of them are carefully tied back to either brand values or data opportuni­ties — or both. (Our Gloves Off debate on the opposite page discusses these dual goals.)

These agencies are far from wasting their clients' time, no matter how they're billing the work. These social media efforts aren't being created for the agency staffers to fluff up their portfolios, neither are they a case of idly dabbling in new channels on a marketer's dime. Their creators are rightly pushing the boundaries of how consumers will allow brands to forge relationships with them. After all, there is no seques­tered test market on the Web — the marketing effort is either out there, or it's not. There absolutely is first-mover advantage to be gained here, even if the numbers don't quite add up yet.

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