Social networking is huge, and the name behind one of the biggest, Bebo, is Francisco Cordero. He tells JACQUI WALKER all about the networking revolution and Bebo’s place in it.
Francisco Cordero (right) is the 31-year-old general manager for social networking site Bebo in Australia and New Zealand. Bebo is the second most popular social network site in Australia.
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Jacqui Walker: Bebo’s a social networking site. Can you tell us briefly about its creation and growth.
Francisco Cordero: Well I suppose obviously everybody knows of the huge growth that came in this sort of new internet evolution, which obviously is MySpace. MySpace started in 2002.
Three years later our founder Michael Birch created Bebo. Bebo is in its initial concept very similar to MySpace, but it became a very easy and accessible way into what MySpace was delivering in terms of its products and its services.
It’s a very simplified version of that social media environment where you can really express your personality in a page. The page has a lot of depth in terms of the amount of content that you can put in there, but at the same time the exciting part is that you can really make your friends part of that rich experience of the web on a daily basis.
Michael Birch is from the UK but he started Bebo in San Francisco.
He founded it with his wife Xochi. Xochi’s American, Michael is English and basically together they started Bebo. It’s a very exciting story to have two people like them, like really bringing the best from two kind of worlds – the American market and the European market.
So how many users are on Bebo now?
Worldwide we have about 35 million [unique] users… we’re 20 months old so it’s been an incredible growth, especially in markets outside of the US. In the US we’re clearly a number three player with MySpace and Facebook the number one and number two positions.
However in the UK, for example, Bebo is constantly battling it out with MySpace for the number one position. In Ireland we are a clear number one. In New Zealand we’re also a clear number one and in Australia we’re a clear number two.
Behind MySpace, of course.
How many users in Australia?
In Australia by Comscore data, which is the data that we report on for everything worldwide, we have just… we’ve just passed the 1.1 million mark of our Australian visitors a month.
And when did you start getting Australian visitors?
It’s early days. The way social media works is it really is based on your contact base so as it spreads in markets like the US and the UK it would also spread really quickly to all the other English-speaking markets.
How have you built the community?
The interesting thing about social media is that it almost has this viral effect. That is, it’s very difficult to actually find anywhere else in the web. Like I said before, based on your contact base, it just spreads naturally without us having to do anything to promote it, so people get to know the product word of mouth really…
How do you make it better than your competitors?
Social media should be understood almost in three very key ways. One of those is the communication community aspect of it, and the other one is the self-expression aspect to it, which is where people’s personalities and their creativity kind of meet in one place.
And the other part, the final part, is really the entertainment. So we’ve all heard about You Tube and about Flickr and about those sites, so a lot of the content that is running on Bebo and MySpace and Facebook – we’re basically a distribution platform for that fantastic content that comes from You Tube and Flickr and all those other sites. So does that kind of make sense?
You’re not actually producing content in the traditional sense are you? You’re providing the platform for other people.
Well we are starting to actually do some initiatives around our originating content. So, for example, we recently did an exclusive deal with the creator of LonelyGirl15, which is today a very powerful brand in the market, because everybody knows about LonelyGirl15. That new sort of production has just started in the UK this past week and it’s called KateModern and it follows a very similar production to what Lonelygirl15 was. So we started to…
For those who don’t know about it, can you give us a brief description?
About what? KateModern?
I can’t really go into the story because it’s something that’s for people to find out, but KateModern is the personal life of somebody that comes across as a normal person just like us and we’re [basically] being welcomed into this person’s life and the whole story unfolds… it’s almost like what you would see from Home And Away and Neighbours and those shows, but with a very very unique way of communicating it on the web.
How is that communicated on the web?
It’s communicated through Kate’s profile, so Kate has a profile just like any of the other users have a profile. People can obviously get Kate to join their profile or they can add themselves as a friend of Kate’s. So it spreads through that kind of same viral effect that the whole Bebo site spreads, but at the same time Kate will also share her experiences and her friend’s experiences via video and via all that… the typical communication forms that we have on the web today.
So you say it’s a lot about viral marketing, but do you use any kind of traditional marketing to build traffic to the site?
Not really, no actually. It truly is a word of mouth experience and we are starting to do some business development deals and partnering with brands. For example, in the UK we partner with iTunes. It’s the first time that iTunes has done a deal such as this with anybody in the world and there’s something that we’re obviously looking to roll out to other markets.
If it’s successful and then we’re doing some other deals, for example with CurrentTV, which is almost like a new form of news basically also on the web… to kick it off we’re trying to find the next TV presenter of CurrentTV so those are exciting projects that we will see in local markets like in Australia over the next couple of months to develop.
Do you do revenue-sharing deals with those companies or is it just about driving more people to your site?
It really depends. Every deal is different. There is no one model that we follow. A lot of the times they might make sense to our revenue share. A lot of the times partners come to us to promote their own offering because we provide a distribution platform of 35 million people, so it does really depend on the actual deal itself.
And for instance with Al Gore – can you tell me more about that deal? How that’s structured?
I can’t really go into details, but I can just say is that obviously it’s a very strategic alliance that we’ve done with CurrentTV.
We’re kicking it off with a fantastic competition where we’re looking for the next TV presenter. The TV presenter that CurrentTV used to have has become a household name and has moved on to other things just like the face of Lonelygirl15 has moved on to be the face of Neutrogena.
Is Bebo’s revenue earned from advertising on the site?
Just like most of your other big websites out there, advertising via display, via search, is definitely our main source of income today. Some of the deals that we’ve just talked about, they are very lucrative ways of expanding the revenue streams that we have in the business so it’s very exciting for us…
Is there a sense that… I was talking to someone a couple of days ago about this and are there social networking sites a bit like nightclubs. They become incredibly popular incredibly quickly but they can equally lose popularity very, very quickly. Is that a real risk in your business?
I personally don’t think so. I think what you’re just saying is while there’s facets of what social media’s about but at the same time I actually see social media as an evolutionary step from websites like Yahoo and MSN. I think we are the future of the internet.
In its current form already right now we are incredibly popular because we allow people to share their experiences but that is something that other websites are not able to do as effectively so as we create a richer environment within our site in terms of content. I can foresee a future where Bebo, MySpace, Facebook will be the dominant websites in the market.
What does that mean for traditional publishers and media publishers like newspapers and magazines that have gone online but they’re Web 1.0 whereas you’re Web 2.0? What do you think the future holds for them?
They only have to look at the decision News Limited has made with MySpace. There are very intelligent people at News and I’m sure they saw the potential MySpace has and now I’m sure there’s a lot of people looking at Bebo and Facebook and thinking there’s huge potential for them there too.
You were mentioning something that’s very interesting, that the media industry will consolidate in some form or shape as well as the social media industry and they will all converge into one, so obviously the News Limited example is a very clear example of what’s happened.
Is there still a place for the sort of expert commentary and journalists whose job it is to go out and find news and deliver it to audiences, that sort of content production? Is there still a place for that in Web 2.0 and what comes after Web 2.0?
I think that people always want to listen to trusted sources and want to read about what trusted sources have to say, but I think what Web 2.0 allows is for people to also have a voice, for people to also contribute to the greater good and the greater knowledge of their community, so I don’t think… I think they are mutually inclusive. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.
I know you’re speaking at a conference (X|Media|Lab “Digital Worlds: Social, Virtual, Mobile” event to be held at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Friday 10 August – Sunday 12 August) and you’re going to be talking about the fact that this is a true internet revolution and there’s dramatic change in the media landscape.
And I know you’re going to say the internet is evolving again and it’s the sites that once pioneered the web are finding it increasingly hard to adapt to new market conditions.
Can you tell me a bit more about that?
Well I think Australia is a fantastic market. There’s nothing like it in the world. I mean this is a market where cross media is truly a cross media. It’s truly a cross media market. What I’m trying to say is you’ve got Channel 7, you’ve got Yahoo, you’ve got Channel 9, you’ve got MSN. They both have got ACP Pacific Magazines. You’ve got real conversion of media in the Australian market and I think right now, the only thing that is truly missing is social media.
Social media, like we’ve been talking in this interview, is incredibly powerful when it comes to harnessing the viral effect that exists within communities, so I can definitely see the incredible work that all the other mediums are doing combining with social media work to basically give an exponential result on what everybody’s trying to achieve within the media market.
You’re talking about convergence and when you say that you’re talking about different types of media converging. But we’re also seeing consolidation in terms of media owners. Is there going to be more of that? Are we going to end up with less voices… more voices in the sense that there’s a lot of user-generated content but less voices in the fact that we’ll have fewer platforms?
That’s a very good question. I don’t know. The media industry is constantly evolving so it’s hard to say whether we’re going to have less platforms. All I think I was referring to before is that within the advertising world specifically there is also a convergence. It’s what we call cross media.
The fact that you’re able to communicate a marketing message across different mediums and what we’ve seen in Australia is that the very powerful media bodies are consolidated in the market in the sense that they’re extending their ability to broadcast or their ability to communicate with an audience across very different channels.
Bringing all those channels together makes it incredibly powerful and very efficient for brands to communicate to audiences because you can basically talk to one network and you can communicate across mobile, across magazines, across TV, across online and maybe I suppose across social media too.
Who are Bebo’s other media partners or is that likely to be coming down the track?
Yeah, that’s something I possibly can really comment on. Right now Bebo is one of the very new independent social media networks in the world and we’re in a very exciting position in the sense that we can develop our own destiny and it will be interesting to see how things evolve, but right now we’re just enjoying the fact that we’re getting so much success worldwide.