MySpace for grown-ups

Portland Trailblazers fans are using a new social networking Web site set up last week by the team to join together and lobby the National Basketball Association to add Trailblazers power forward Zach Randolph to the lineup for Sunday's NBA All-Star Game in Las Vegas.

The Portland team is considering whether to use the new site to encourage fans to join forces to promote the team's Brandon Roy to be the professional basketball league's rookie of the year, said Art Sasse, Trailblazers' vice president of communications.

The NBA team joins a growing number of businesses that are embracing Web 2.0 tools like blogs, wikis and podcasts to create social networks where customers, partners and others can add content and create virtual communities of interest.

While such social networks first gained popularity among users of sites like MySpace and YouTube, businesses are now turning to the technology to boost their brand appeal and sales while gathering feedback that can be used in new product development efforts. In addition to the Trailblazers, companies like General Motors Corp. and Procter & Gamble have launched new social networks in the last two weeks for the Pontiac automobile line and Old Spice products, respectively.

The Trailblazers site, which signed up 2,500 registered users in its first three business days, was launched as a vehicle to help management communicate with the team's fans, Sasse said. He noted that its earlier strategy of reaching fans by e-mail has faltered recently as messages are left unopened.

Using Web 2.0 technology to link fans in specific parts of the city, the site "drives the drum beat of awareness, and [users] start coming to more games," he added. "It is a chance for us to see where the fans are headed rather than try to move them there," Sasse said. "It is a good, old-fashioned, grass-roots organization. The more authentic the connection, the more powerful that connection is."