Gather, a niche social network that caters to adults looking for in-depth online discussions, is at the center of the formation of a new ad industry group dedicated to developing standards for social-media advertising.
Called the Social Media Advertising Council, or SMAC, the group encompasses representatives of social networks, ad agencies, and eventually brand advertisers; inaugural members come from the leadership of agencies Universal McCann, MediaVest, Edelman, Deep Focus, and Digitas, among others.
That roster is far from complete, SMAC chairman and Gather CEO Tom Gerace told CNET News in a meeting at the Web 2.0 Expo at the Jacob Javits Convention Center on Wednesday.
"We've invited Facebook and MySpace, of course, on the social-media side," Gerace said. "We're reaching out to additional agencies--and now to brand advertisers, for the first time--to invite them to be part of the consortium." He added that SMAC will have its first meeting in late October.
SMAC's aim is to create a set of standards for social-media advertising, sometimes called "engagement advertising," that mirrors the standards set for print, television, and display ads.
"People go out, and they mean 20 different things when they say 'engagement,'" Gerace said. "We need to have a standard vocabulary, a common vocabulary. We need to have standard methods of measurements, and we need to have a standard buying unit where people can come in and transact much more easily in the space, and buy 'engagement.'"
Gerace said neither he nor anyone else has decided what "buying engagement" actually means. He hopes SMAC, set up as a nonprofit organization, will change that. "When we talk about a standard buying unit, maybe we've got flexibility built in, based on the reach achieved," he suggested.
Statistics from eMarketer say social-network advertising is projected to be a $1.8 billion business in 2009. But Gerace said that without a standards board that fulfills a role like the one that the Interactive Advertising Bureau does for display ads, its growth will be hindered.
"The industry has done great as a nascent space in talking about engagement, but without these standards, we can't take it to the next level."