How many of your friends are juristic persons?

(Updated July 8th)

A corporation is by definition an artificial person, or a legal entity which can act like a person. (Among other things, sue and be sued, make money, enter into contracts, and so on.) If you’re really interested in the legal concept, check out the Wikipedia entry on the notion of a juristic person, especially the section on creation and history of the doctrine.

I’m more interested in the modern, Web 2.0 application of the concept, in which Corporations have profiles on social networking sites.

Delta Airlines, for example, made quite a splash twittering a few months back. I added the twitter Delta Airlines as my “friend” – trusting that Northwest, Jet Blue, and United wouldn’t get jealous – but haven’t heard much from him/her/it recently. In fact, deltaairlines’ last tweet was 1 month ago – “switching on the Nintendo DS download stations at Terminals 2 & 3 in JFK.” His/her/its 103 followers and 93 friends must be sorely disappointed.

Lots of companies show up on myspace – seems to have started with the notion that a band could have a myspace page, which then evolved to the point where a band doesn’t exist until it has a myspace page. Then record companies – smaller ones first, bigger ones when they sensed interest – started to have myspace profiles. And radio stations – kexp is one of my top friends. Then Borat came along, and he had a myspace page.

This weekend, Forrester published a new research report “How Consumers Use Social Networking Sites.” In it, they discuss “friending”:

The most common approach [to marketing to MySpace and Facebook users] is to set up a profile on these sites that members can then join, or “friend”; for example, the movie “X-Men: The Last Stand” has more than 2 million MySpace users as friends.

In fact, this idea is one of the three core recommendations, as noted in the executive summary (which Charlene Li also posted to her blog):

Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook have seen tremendous growth over the past two years, attracting a young and engaged audience. Frequent users of these social networking sites not only engage in more activities and have a more positive attitude about these sites, but they are also far more interested in profiles from their favorite companies. Marketers interested in reaching their audiences on social networking sites should: 1) dispense with traditional Web marketing tactics, 2) encourage “friending,” and 3) regularly refresh content.

They’re right that marketers should pick up on this opportunity. But I also think we need a new category for these kinds of relationships – a new class of user within the system who isn’t just a regular person. Having a “friend” named Delta Airlines wouldn’t bother me if it let me whitelist messages from that friend to let me know when a flight is late / cancelled, for example. If it is just going to offer new opportunities for spam, I can always uninvite them from my network.

I remember companies doing this in the era of IM as well – creating personas you could add to your buddy list who were really just little branded communication channels.

Will we see users scrambling to create shell profiles in their company name just to prevent someone else from doing it first?

How many of the “friends” in your buddy list, on IM, or in a social networking site, are juristic persons?

If Apple wanted to be my friend, could I accept that friendship or would Kubuntu get upset?

Update July 5:
Just came across Paul Dunay’s excellent Measuring Effects of Social Networks, which uses the example of Adidas Soccer:

Adidas agency Carat Fusion knew Adidas Soccer was popular: Its year-old MySpace profile has 80,000 friends who downloaded wallpaper and adopted the persona of one of the company’s shoe styles.

What the agency didn’t know was whether that popularity translated into real value. But thanks to a new study it conducted, the agency now knows that the consumer-powered campaign increased purchase intent 78%, brand image 71%, and likelihood to recommend 57%!

Update July 6th:
Also check out the report commissioned by the folks at Fox Interactive Media, Isobar, and CaratUSA: Never Ending Friending,
which quotes Rob from Los Angeles saying: “I don’t want companies to advertise to me. I want them to be my friend,” and argues that “Friending is the new Advertising.”

Update: July 8th:
See “News Corp’s Nightmare Scenario: Achieving ‘Never-Ending Friending’” for a more negative take on the fictitious friends scenario, which concludes:

the mass adoption of these methods and, more important, the subsequent mass “gaming” of the marketing methods outlined by this report, will destroy the most valuable social media property of the digital generation.