Money and Social Networking for kids

Just to recap here, according to Olsen, Neilsen/Netratings measured the following web traffic in April 2007:

– sites = 11 million (visitors)
– Club Penguin = 4 million
– Webkinz = 3.6 million
– Neopets = 3.2 million
– Barbie/Everythinggirl = 1.9 million

While these numbers don’t specify what percentage of these visitors actually belongs to the 2-11 year old demographic (all?), I’m guessing that they’re assuming that a large or majority percentage do. As for BarbieGirls, the site is claiming to have registered half a million kids since April 26. Of particular note is the growing excitement for real world/virtual world crossover play (a la Webkinz and this new MP3/BarbieGirls play), which appears to be developing quite quickly from the “premium”-model that Neopets was applying a couple of years ago (where purchase of a Neopets toy came with a special activation code that allowed you to get into a special area of the site), to a more integrated and ongoing approach (watch for Viva Pinata’s toy/avatar venture later this year). Another promising aspect is how Mattel has integrated this real/virtual crossover into its safety features, via the special access players can obtain for “best friends”.

Gamine Expedition: CNET Covers BarbieGirls and kids’ MMOGs

Mmmm. There is talk of such ventures here. Time will tell.

I’m weary in a bit of the frenzy. Why? Because it feels… shifty.

Remember in the movie The Witches (adaptation of Roahl Dahl’s brilliance) with Angelica Huston– when the witches lured the chubby kid into the conference hall promising chocolates as long as he showed up. He opened the door and all of the wig-toting, square-shoed, purple-pupiled old bats turned around and eyed him greedily, giggling with success, excited to see what happened to this kid in their environment, eating up their product? Yeah… so that’s a total exaggeration of the situation, so take about a 1/10th of that creepiness and apply it to companies salivating over the toy + virtual world = big bucks scenario. That’s how I feel about it.

It’s not a wrong venture. In fact– in terms of making the money needed to support such an engaging website, I understand the need to pursue such a licensing coup. Companies are companies– they’re in it to win it… “it” being your business of course. Virtual worlds & branded sites are for consumer awareness & engaging the end user (preferably with a wallet). Doesn’t sound very flattering, I know, but truth is truth… besides, it’s also about your companies intentions and the respect returned to the people who support businesses & companies (at least that’s my opinion, and what I look for in the companies I support as a consumer).

Brands thriving online = a two way street. A Bert & Ernie situation. Two ideals co-habitating to be successful in one environment, despite the differing goals, both have the same intentions.

1. Give back to the audience/consumer. Listen to the voice of the people. Give them what they want and in return, they’ll support you. Good intentions, sincere thanks, opportunities for all, and a positive step forward.

2. Promote brand awareness. Make engagement with the product easier– more information/understanding of the product/brand, alerts of new offers, quick buy links, profitability, capitalism, etc.

I’m sure I’m missing a bunch of other ideas… but to me– these are the good cop & bad cop of branding online. A good company is able to balance the two. A GREAT company makes #1 the majority (le sigh) while still managing to pull in enough profit to make the website sustainable. Lord knows it takes $$ to staff & build– thems the facts. Nothing is “really” free.

What bothers me are the “Me toos” — the people who only see dancing dollars. The companies that see others have success with their online ventures and make hasty decisions to jump in too. #1 isn’t even a thought… but looked at as a “plus” later on down the line when flinging out their PR statements. Flurry, flurry, fluster, fluster– get on that gravy train! UGH. No thank you. Maybe I’m being naive, and that’s just the way things are done… but in MY line of work? I have to make #1 the majority, while doing my best to understand #2. But #2 will never be my first reaction. You lose any credibility as a community role model & leader.

Silly side note & probably bad example: Ever notice the fact that Gilligan’s Island wasn’t called “Skipper’s Island” or “Mr. Howell’s Island”? Gilligan (although the pratfall & gag of the island) was the only one TRULY supportive of the people around him before himself. He’s the one the people look to (despite his mistakes & goof ups on the show).

When I was in India last fall– I was on the end of those greedy glances– the kind that make you feel like a Moneybags McGee among a crowd of Impoverished O’Emptypockets. I really REALLY hate it when hungry companies look at children like dancing steaks. Thank god no one at SF does (at least not that I’ve seen). I’d turn all Rambo.

Anyway… the next 6 months should be VERY interesting in terms of social networking for the wee ones. Sara from Gamineexpedition already pointed out the Viva Pinata example (really? VP? I didn’t really think it had that great of a following where kids would search ’em out online & buy their stuff in stores. Hmmm. Who knew?) I wonder who the next “Me Too” will be– I’ve got my eye out for ’em. Hopefully you will too.

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