September 6, 2007
A Facebook for the Few
By RUTH LA FERLA
If more proof were needed that the rich are different, it could be found on aSmallWorld.net, an invitation-only social networking site.
“I need to rent 20 very luxury sports cars for an event in Switzerland on the 6th September,” a member wrote recently on the Forum, aSmallWorld’s popular nucleus. “The cars should be: Maserati — Ferrari — Lamborghini — Aston Martin ONLY!”
Another announced: “If anyone is looking for a private island, I now have one available for purchase in Fiji.”
Founded four years ago, the site, promoted as a Facebook for the social elite, has grown from about 500 members to about 150,000 registered users. [snip], aSmallWorld has attempted to create an Internet niche by cultivating an air of exclusivity.
The site functions much like an inscrutable co-op board: its members, who pay no fee, induct newcomers on the basis of education, profession and most important, their network of personal contacts. [snip]
Users are mostly young — 32 on average. Many have graduate degrees and a taste for living extravagantly on more than one continent. Sixty-five percent are from Europe, 20 percent from the United States and the rest scattered around the globe.
“We’re dealing with a group of people that moves in social migration around the planet,” said Joe Robinson, the new chief executive. “From the point of view of a Mercedes-Benz or a Piaget, that makes this an enormous marketing opportunity.”
Advertising rates are competitive with those of Forbes.com and Style.com, Mr. Robinson said. On average, clients spend $20,000 to $50,000 a month, he said. The company also arranges dinners and tastings where members can sample advertisers’ products. For one recent gathering, Rémy Martin supplied 4,000 bottles of its premium Cognac, valued at $200 each.
But the presence of advertisers raises questions about just whom they are reaching and whether this business model works.
Mr. Robinson said 35 percent of aSmallWorld members log in every day. But Andrew Lipsman, a senior analyst at comScore Network, a company that rates online usage, said that it is hard to track the number of unique visitors because the site is relatively small. “If there are a couple of hundred thousand registered users,” he said, “probably only a fraction are visiting the site regularly.” Compare that with Facebook, which in July had 30.6 million unique visitors, a number that has doubled since last year, Mr. Lipsman said.
Skeptics are not sure just who is getting the message. “For truly wealthy consumers, time is the ultimate luxury,” said Pam Danziger of Unity Marketing, which researches luxury brands. “These people are not going to waste it hanging about on a social networking site.”
The site has drawn enough notice to breed its share of copycats. Milton Pedraza of the Luxury Institute, a New York research group, plans to introduce Luxury Ratings.com early next year as an advertising-free, gated online community; members will pay an annual subscribers’ fee of $250. He says members will each have a net worth in the millions or tens of millions. “[snip]
Small World loyalists seem content. Laura Rubin, a brand consultant and fashion publicist in New York, uses her personal network of about 170 members to build her business. “It’s like a Rolodex,” she said. Last month she combed that base for guests to attend a fashion party in the glass-enclosed penthouse of Hotel on Rivington on the Lower East Side.
Friday, September 7, 2007
September 6, 2007