Bebo relaunch: How to resurrect a failing social brand

James is editor in chief of TechForge Media, with a passion for how technologies influence business and several Mobile World Congress events under his belt. James has interviewed a variety of leading figures in his career, from former Mafia boss Michael Franzese, to Steve Wozniak, and Jean Michel Jarre. James can be found tweeting at @James_T_Bourne.

MarketingTech speaks to the new CEO of Bebo, Shaan Puri, on the company’s sudden relaunch, its comeback video, and the plans going forward from here

Remember Bebo? For those of a certain age – this author included – it evokes memories of the mid 2000s, and adolescent social networking before the indomitable rise of Facebook.

The company lost a vast amount of marketshare leading to AOL selling up in 2010 having cost then-CEO Randy Falco his job, but now it’s back – as a mobile app.

The comeback came with a certain amount of fanfare, as well as the obligatory marketing video, with co-founder Michael Birch promising a less ‘cocky’ service in more ways than one.

Poking fun at its Whiteboard feature, Birch notes with tongue firmly in cheek that the previous iteration of Bebo was “arguably the single biggest repository of illustrated cock and balls ever recorded”.

And according to Bebo’s new CEO, Shaan Puri, the advert, entitled ‘It’s time to come clean’, was nothing but a resounding success, having made the conscious decision “not to be boring”.

“It came down to the fact that we felt we had to be honest,” Puri told MarketingTech. “It never really comes off well when brands try to make a ‘cool comeback’ when they haven’t been relevant in years.

“You can’t throw money at the problem, hire celebrities and run fancy advertisements. People are too smart to be fooled. Before you can move forward, you must acknowledge the present first.

“[The advert] was a risk, but so far the reaction has been tremendous,” Puri added. “We’re glad that people got it, and appreciated us doing something different, funny and honest.”

Whilst MarketingTech examines this statement in light of HTC’s decision to make Robert Downey Jr. its ad star for the next two years, thoughts naturally turned as to why Puri took the helm.

Puri skimped on the specifics, but said that it was down to “an interesting idea…that would make for a really cool mobile app”. The former CEO of Monkey Inferno happily admits that the brand wasn’t firing on all aces when he took over however.

“Bebo was certainly a neglected brand in past years,” he said. “It didn’t innovate forward, and thus felt like a thing of the past.

“When we acquired the site, it had zero full-time employees and even basic functionality like uploading photos was broken, so even the few million people a month visiting the site were having a poor experience,” he added.

Hence the angle of the comeback video. “Even though we didn’t break it, we are going to fix it,” Puri said, adding: “We’ve had an amazing response to our announcement so far – surprisingly, there’s a lot of people that weren’t on Bebo before [who] are entertained and intrigued enough to sign up.”

Similarly, as a purely mobile-only service to begin with, it makes sense that Puri sees this as the big gap in social.

“There are definitely a few gaps that are starting to form, however we’re most excited about the mobile space,” Puri said.

“Before Instagram, most people would say, ‘why wouldn’t I just post these photos on Facebook?’ The gaps always look tiny until someone finds the crease and blows the whole thing open – that’s what we’re going to do,” he added.

Puri also noted that Bebo’s short-term future is on mobile, saying the new concept “works really well as a mobile app” although not entirely ruling out a web presence in the future.

For now though, anyone who visits Bebo will be met with the promotional video and a chance to reserve their place on the new site – nothing more than that.

As a result, any concrete predictions will be based on nothing but conjecture. Yet one wonders whether Bebo can potentially take advantage of Facebook’s difficulties; a recent Mashable article highlighted how, for many early teenagers, they are flocking away from the Menlo Park giant for trendier alternatives. Bebo could potentially “do to Facebook what Facebook did to MySpace”, as one YouTube commenter put it.

Puri however, has a simple wish for the coming 12 months: “In a year, I would like to see Bebo be a household name.”

We shall see whether his wish becomes reality.

Check out the promotional video below. What do you make of Bebo’s comeback campaign? Is their brand forever tainted, or can they make a serious dent in the social space?

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