PlayboyU: All Tease and No Action

I was skeptical when Playboy launched its exclusive social network for college students in August called PlayboyU, mostly because Hef’s adult entertainment empire had chosen merely to brand a standard Ning website. While it’s questionable to me whether a corporate brand can ever sustain a large and active social network, it just didn’t seem like the company was trying very hard to leverage its assets and create a uniquely Playboy social networking experience.

In apparent response to disappointing engagement levels (PlayboyU had about 5,000 members in early November and, as of writing, only 12 “site activity” items in the last 12 hours), Playboy is pushing a fairly lengthy survey on its “charter members” through email and on-site ads. It asks questions about social network usage, Playboy brand perceptions and, most importantly, the appeal of integrating magazine content into the social network (although with little emphasis on nudity, suggesting that Playboy is still wary of turning PlayboyU into an outlet for soft pornography).

Among the types of content considered by the survey are cartoons, music picks, advice from Playboy experts, behind the scenes footage of Playboy events, Playmate and “Girls of” profiles, excerpts from “The Girls Next Door” show, fashion pages, and party jokes. Playboy is also apparently weighing the option of creating a “public” site for college age adults that would provide not only traditional Playboy content but serve as a resource like Princeton Review with guides to campus life and ranking systems, as well as “original editorial and video segments related to college life.” This second site would probably not replace PlayboyU, since the registration requirement of a “.edu” email address is one – if not the – selling point of the current social network (see the video created by a site representative below).

It’s too early to tell whether this survey will amount to any real changes to PlayboyU, although the company is obviously exploring ways to improve the social network by taking it in new directions. We’ll just have to see what Playboy comes up with in 2008, and whether it finds Ning to be flexible enough for its attempts at differentiation.