PerfSpot preps member marketing scheme, but will it work?

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PerfSpot is a MySpace-line social network which has rarely merited much mention, other than by TechCrunch UK last year when it was ranked as one of the UK’s fastest-growing social networking sites, beating Facebook at the time. Now the site, which claims 24 million members, is launching a word-of-mouth marketing service called Friendvouch. One can understand the desire to quickly monetise a social network in these tougher times. But is PerSpot poised to sow the seeds of its own demise?

Here’s the rub: social networks grew fast because they were effecively user generated, and trust oriented. The networks with few unique features just built as fast as they could. Perfspot – supposedly reminiscent of “Perfect Spot” – has built itself in that aggressive manner (see here or here). Others I’ve talked to say it’s really the kind of network where the aim is just to get an many ‘friends’ as possible.

An why did PerfSpot grow – in the UK a least – quite so fast? A PerfSpot’s spokeman tells me they have never spammed users, just that they offer the option to import users from Gmail, etc and they even have a customer phone number that is staffed live 24×7. “In a few instances, customers have inadvertently imported contacts and decided later to change their minds. In cases where people have contacted us with their decision, we have of course manually changed their account to prevent future emails from being sent,” he says.

Now PerfSpot plans to unveil a scheme called Friendvouch which essentially amounts to this: A Perfspot user subscribes to advertising offers, passes these on to their friends (pimp may be too strong a word, although it feels right), then sells… sorry, sends the details of those friends who are interested back to the advertisers. In return they get rewarded under the scheme. Friendvouch makes contact and vets the details and verifies the interest.

This sounds all very well in theory. My view is that it will start off innocently enough – but gradually you will realise that your ‘friend’ just keeps sending you these offers, not because you wanted them but because they will benefit if you respond. This is when the trust will break down in the network.

What’s PerfSot’s answer to this possibility of friend spam? They say Friendvouch makes contact to vet the details, but also verify interest and they’ve “capped” the number of contacts any subscriber can provided at the outset. So you can email 10 of your PerfSpot friends with these offers, and if some respond and their info is verified, then your “cap” is raised. Of course, if you start doing this a lot you’ll start getting unfriended pretty fast – I think the the whole system will becomes unworkable after that.

PerfSpot will be migrating its members to friendvouch in up to 3 million member “batches” over coming weeks.

As for Perfspot’s UK position, below is a chart illustrating Perfspot’s market share of UK Internet visits to HitWise’s Social Networking and Forums category over the last 12 months. It looks like the ‘fastest growing’ tag doesn’t hold much water, Hitwise’s Robin Goad tell me. The site’s market share of the social networking sector actually declined from 0.034% to 0.028% between October 2007 and 2007.

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