MySpace and Facebook record impressive time on site numbers. According to comScore, Facebook users spend at least 9.8 minutes/visit on the site and MySpace* users 16.2 minutes/visit**. (Though I have to say there must be a whole load of people coming and going quickly, because my kids spend hours on their social network of choice.)

So how can brands participate on these sites? Without just buying ads? I’m not going to quote formal study data here. I’m going to voice what I see happening personally — I visit MySpace and Facebook every single day (some weekends excepted).

Both Facebook and MySpace have accessible ways for brands to gain customer insights, build loyalty, engage users in discussions and improve the reputation of a brand.

Facebook has set up a system for building brand Fan pages that’s easy and fun for a small, or big, brand to use. They don’t charge you for it. Your favorite TV shows probably all have fan pages, as well as all kinds of consumer brands from Nike to Monster Energy drinks. You find out when your friends join Fan pages, and like as not, probably join them yourself too.

Once you’ve built a Fan page on Facebook, you can bulletin your fans, send out updates, start discussions, post interesting data, invite fans to events. Regular users get engaged in what you are doing. How much better is that than a flashy old MREC?

MySpace lets brands build pages too, but MySpace puts financial barriers in the way of their fan pages — it’s pay to play. That leaves little brands with no budget out in the cold. There is no easy and simple discussion board mechanism. And unless you have access to cool creative and HTML resources, your page looks very same-old. Nonetheless, plenty of brands go the MySpace page route, and find it successful. Again, better than any ad.

I manage a Fan page on Facebook, and a brand page on MySpace. I find that I can post more, and more often on Facebook, because there are just fewer steps to get there. Plus, I can tie it into my blog for auto-posting, and my Twitter. But I find I can post more engaging things like slideshows and photos on the MySpace page. I have more control over how the MySpace page reflects my brand on MySpace. On Facebook all the fan pages look much the same. The user activity is different also. My bulletins to MySpace friends don’t generate very much response, but I usually get a few responses from the Facebook bulletins. I have about the same number of friend/fans on both. It’s an ongoing learning experience to find out what engages people on these fan pages.

I’d be willing to bet that before long, Facebook will offer some sort of premium fan page service to brands willing to cough up the bucks. And by that time, we’ll all be so addicted to chatting to our users on our Fan pages that we’ll all pay.

* Full disclosure: as of the time of writing this post, I work for a division of Fox Interactive Media, the same company that owns MySpace.

** comScore Media Metrix, US statistics, February 2009

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