Bebo has poached one of Google's top dealmakers in an effort to boost advertising and sponsorship revenues, the social networking site will announce on Monday.
Joanna Shields, who was head of Google's European strategic partnerships team and was behind its recent alliance with British Sky Broadcasting, the pay-TV group, is to head a new international division at Bebo.
The move comes only days after MySpace launched its first European foreign-language website, in France.
Ms Shields said Bebo would look for opportunities to increase its presence across Europe.
But development of other ventures, such as access via mobile phone, will take priority, along with partnerships with music and entertainment companies.
"There hasn't been a strong history of doing that so far, but this is the beginning of phase two," Ms Shields said. "Bebo has been a great experience but we can't rest on our laurels. We have to make it a business opportunity as well."
Bebo, which is used by 30m people worldwide to stay in touch and meet new friends, has been profitable since last autumn. It had seven-figure revenues in December, the company estimates, and is looking to increase these dramatically.
Barry Maloney, general partner at Benchmark Capital Europe, Bebo's main investor, said: "This is a very real 21st century business which will have exponential revenue growth."
He described the appointment of Ms Shields as an "endorsement" of that view.
Ms Shields will be based in London – in new offices on Carnaby Street – and will be hiring a sales team. San Francisco-based Bebo is currently run on a staff of just 28 worldwide.
According to figures from Nielsen NetRatings, Bebo is the third most popular social networking site in the US, with 1.35m unique monthly users compared with MySpace's 53.6m.
In the UK, Bebo is in second place behind MySpace and the gap is considerably smaller – 2.7m unique monthly users compared with 5.1m for MySpace in the recent ratings.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007