MSLO plans to build the social-networking space itself rather than through a major acquisition. CEO Susan Lyne detailed the plan earlier this week at an investor conference. "There's a big opportunity in what is called 'the older female demographic lifestyle arena,' ages 25 to 45. There is no place like MySpace, like Friendster for that demo," she said.
Allie Savarino, a former senior VP of marketing at online ad technology provider Unicast, for one, would disagree, having already started a women's social-network site this spring. She's a co-founder of Sisterwoman, which launched April 19 with advertising support from Discovery Network's TLC and Neutrogena.
"Women are intuitively drawn, have a fundamental need to contribute and participate, not just consumer content," she said. "An online community or social network does that."
The social-networking craze has caught on in a major way among high-school and college-age youth and is beginning to seep into the professional-workplace environment through communities such as LinkdIn and Soflow. Ms. Lyne suggested the growth of Yahoo Answers is fueled by a desire among adults -- especially women -- to share tips, ideas and information. Ms. Saverino said her research indicates that women tried to create a community through Yahoo Groups but "found that limiting."
More enthusiastic than men
According to a December 2005 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, women are more "enthusiastic online communicators" than men and more robust users of e-mail, especially to nurture relationships.
Additionally, many of the risks and instability associated with youth-skewing social networks may not be major concerns for older-targeting sites. Those targeting a more mature audience are more likely to escape the bad publicity that sites such as MySpace have been dealt over indecent posts and the presence of sexual predators. And an older audience will likely prove to be more tolerant of advertising -- potentially making these kinds of social networks better marketing vehicles.
"I think there's a big opportunity in that generation or two generations above the MySpace gang," Ms. Lyne said.
Ms. Savarino's Sisterwoman stands ready to jump on that opportunity. The site has plans to become a robust platform for marketing to women, though it will be limiting ad exposure to a single impression per page so as not to inundate its new members with marketing messages, Ms. Savarino said. The site has also created content areas where women can provide feedback, and Neutrogena sponsors a spa-technique discussion page where women have posted ideas about how to reduce eye wrinkles and cure chronic dry skin.
"We benefited from a lot of advertisers wishing they'd been early partners with many sites that are now hits," she said. The network is still very nascent. Ms. Saverino said it had 20,000 members at launch thanks to grass-roots marketing.