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Warner Music adding social networking to Web sites

After years of watching music fans flood online social networks to interact with their favorite recording artists, the music industry is starting to get serious about adding community features to its own websites.

Hoping to become a big player in that effort is networking giant Cisco, which during the Consumer Electronics Show January 8-11 in Las Vegas introduced its Eos platform — a set of hosted online tools designed to enable media and entertainment companies to build social networking functions into websites.

For record labels that means adding fan community services to artist sites. Warner Music Group (WMG) is the first label partner signed on to use the Eos platform, and it already plans to add such functionality to the sites for Atlantic artists Laura Izibor and Sean Paul. Other artist sites will migrate to the platform over the course of the year.

“As the Web shifts from the enterprise to the consumer in terms of where the traffic is coming from, the social media revolution — which is all about fans interacting with artists — is going to provide an enormous opportunity,” said WMG executive vice president of digital strategy and business development Michael Nash “This is a recognition that having a social media strategy is not just about partnering with social networks, but it’s also about what we do with our direct-to-consumer efforts.”

Eos features include data analytics, content management and site administration capabilities, but it’s the social networking that gets Cisco’s foot in the door. That a company the size of Cisco is dedicating an entire division of resources to the effort speaks volumes on how significant an opportunity it expects the field to present in the years ahead.

According to the company’s internal market research, 36 percent of fans seek entertainment content directly from the branded site of the provider — be it a music artist or a TV show. Today, that traffic is largely promotional, with few opportunities for fans to interact the way they do on MySpace or Facebook

Several site development tools with a social networking focus have been around for years, particularly one called Ning, which powers several existing artist-focused social networks. But outside of a few pioneering artists like 50 Cent and Kylie Minogue few labels or artists have made much of an effort to turn it into a standard practice.

“A lot of the interaction around artists occurs on MySpace or Facebook, where neither the label or the artist particularly monetizes those types of things,” said Dan Scheinman, senior vice president /general manager of Cisco’s Media Solutions Group.

Exactly how WMG or other labels plan to monetize their artists’ sites using the platform remains to be seen, but Scheinman said it will build the system with online advertising and sponsorship models in mind.

“This is really about managing these websites as businesses,” Nash said.

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