Branded social networks offer more than ads

Branded social networks are designed to promote companies, while providing users with a social experience. These social networks from companies do the best job.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read

At their core, branded social networks are a marketing ploy by firms to keep you interested in their products. So, be aware that if you join one you will need to deal with some annoying advertisements. But if you want to join another community of people with similar interests, start with some of these services.

Branded social networks

Disney Disney's social-networking efforts provide a unique experience by appealing more to children than adults.

After you sign up for the social network, you'll be given the opportunity to create your own "page." There, you can add videos, audio, games, widgets, and a variety of other elements to make your page your own. Think of it as a custom home page. As you might expect, most of the elements you can add to your page are Disney-branded. So, you can have a "101 Dalmatians" background or play a "Pirates of the Caribbean" game. Once complete, you can check out other users' pages, chat with friends, or join groups. It's a powerful service and it's well-designed.

Disney lets you do a lot with your page. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

eBay Neighborhoods eBay Neighborhoods is a collection of groups of eBay users who communicate, review products, upload content, or just discuss the topics of their choice.

After signing up for eBay, you can easily join one of the company's neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods range in size from a few members to thousands of members that center on topics ranging from coffee to sports. The members in each group engage in discussions on those subjects. They can also review products and post blog entries. Some of the bigger neighborhoods have a lot of activity, while others have little activity. Either way, eBay Neighborhoods isn't a bad place to communicate with people who share your interests.

eBay Neighborhoods
eBay Neighborhoods have some groups worth joining. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

ImSaturn If you're a Saturn car lover, ImSaturn might be the place to be. This well-designed social network has thousands of members that spend time discussing their cars, what Saturn plans for the future, and uploading photos of their "rides." Like most social networks, you can become friends with other users, comment on status updates, and view (and upload) videos. ImSaturn also lists events for Saturn lovers to attend. You can even join groups.

ImSaturn has some groups that you can join. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

MetroTwin MetroTwin is powered by British Airways. But instead of just connecting users who love to travel, the site takes it one further by allowing folks in both London and New York City to discuss and review their favorite hangouts.

Once you complete your profile, MetroTwin immediately asks you to start discussing your favorite places in New York or London. You can see reviews, add your own, or just find out which restaurants, bars, and hotels are worth checking out. There's little British Airways branding (which is a plus). And I really like the site's design. But since there are so many competitors in the space, I'm not convinced it's a site worth joining.

MetroTwin will show off a bunch of places worth checking out in London and New York. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

My Starbucks Idea My Starbucks Idea is a community of coffee lovers who have the opportunity to share their ideas for improving Starbucks with the company.

After you sign up for My Starbucks Idea, you can view ideas or share your own idea. Once you decide to share your thoughts, you'll only need to input a title and description. From there, it will be posted on the site's home page. Ideas can be "favorited" by other users. They can also comment on the idea.

Once Starbucks' employees pick some of the better ideas, they'll present it to the company's key decision makers. If it's implemented, users won't get compensation, but they will get credit on the site.

My Starbucks Idea
My Starbucks Idea makes it easy to share your ideas. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Think MTV If you're looking to get involved in social activism, Think MTV is the branded social network for you. It highlights important issues on topics ranging from discrimination to human rights.

Once you sign up for the site, you can follow what's going on in those spaces, discuss those issues with others, and form groups to help combat the problems. The site also provides links to political action organizations, so you can have your voice heard. It's a really nice site that provides insight into hot-button issues. Check it out.

Think MTV
Think MTV will help you find others who share your opinions on important topics. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

My top 3

1. Think MTV: Think MTV highlights some tough issues. More importantly, it makes you think.

2. Disney: If you're looking to have some fun with your social network, Disney is for you.

3. My Starbucks Idea: Who wouldn't want to decide how Starbucks does business?