Meez: The next generation of social media

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meez_small.jpgADOTAS – From his browser window, Meez CEO John Cahill summons his avatar and suddenly he is in the middle of a crowded street — numerous similar-looking digital people surround him, walking up and down the virtual arcade, heading to various online spaces to hang with friends or enjoy video. Several avatars are rolling on the ground and writhing, mouths wide open.

“They’re laughing at my hat,” he says with a smirk. It is a silly hat — something your grandfather might wear when going fishing — but Cahill’s avatar bears an impressive likeness to the man behind the keyboard. Cahill says he has numerous avatars, all of which he customized just like any user can do on Meez — different avatars for different moods, he claims.

Cahill is demonstrating the Meez application within MySpace — on Oct. 20, the two companies announced that a user will be able to jump into the skin of his or her avatar and into the Meez Nation from his or her MySpace account. One might think that this move is a sign of consolidation in the increasingly crowded social digital mediascape, but actually the integration is focused on overlap: both companies will be able to reach new audiences.

In turn, advertisers should find more brand exposure to key demographics as well as great opportunities for targeting.

“This integration gives the virtual reality experience to a social homebase such as MySpace,” Cahill says. “We hope to do Facebook next.”

Just 14 months ago Meez launched its virtual universe, which now boasts 13 million registered users and 3 million active, and one of the highest ranked sites in terms of engagement. The average Meez user spends an hour or more tooling about the Nation, whether in private “roomz” watching videos or engaging in dance ucontests at more than 300 public hangouts among other activities. Compare that to an average of 20 minutes on MySpace. In addition, Meez users can chat in real time and build their own roomz with branded virtual goods.

“This is the next generation of social media,” he says. “We’re at the intersection of digital media, virtual worlds and virtual community. It’s a good place to be.”

Seventy percent of Meez users are between the ages of 13 and 17; the second largest demographic is females above the age of 30. About 90% of all users live in the United States. Taken in total, all these factors are benign for both ad positioning and data uptake.

Teenagers spend time on Meez doing what they do in normal life — chatting, watching movies and playing games. However, unlike Facebook or MySpace, this is a real-time community — while a friend may react later to a link or video shared on those sites, on Meez the experience is shared — as well as the exposure to brands and other advertisements.

Rich media ads featuring video are the most popular form of advertising, but banners also hold regaled spots. Advertisers also sponsor video channels, which Cahill notes has been a promising style of promotion. Ironically, the most active users make poor targets as they tend to get overexposed to certain ads.

Keeping with the trend of a growing virtual goods industry, in the last 12 months branded virtual goods have become a huge revenue stream. Goods can be bought with “coinz,” which can be purchased, but the majority of users earn coinz through filling out surveys sent to advertisers and used in targeting.

Chuckling, Cahill announces that the Halloween-themed virtual merchandise has just been introduced, including outfits such as a strait jacket and a room decorated as a padded cell. This might be why Meez gets kids to log on and stay on — beyond the fact it’s fun, it also seems to be genuinely in touch with with today’s youth. At night there’s a thriving goth scene at night that Cahill attributes to the “Twilight” craze. There are cultural groups as well — during Islamic holiday of Ramadan, a group of users streamed episodes of a Syrian soap opera while others led prayer groups.

Sometimes it’s too hard to pull away — Cahill relates a story of one user he met who claimed to have spent six straight hours on the site. “I told him to go outside!” he says.

Cahill’s experience in social media is based in the video game and online media industries, with stints at Segasoft and Yahoo! In fact, most of the team that set up and manages the Meez universe have backgrounds in video games; one of the next goals for Meez is a browser-based 3-D environment that users could traverse similar to many video game worlds. The company has a trial version with a lot potential.

After that, Cahill hopes to unveil a mobile application for Meez that would allow users to access the universe wherever, whenever. Such an application could be an exponential leap for real-time targeted advertising.

“The promise with interactive marketing was the ability to target ads as narrowly as possible,” Cahill says. “That day is coming.”

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