Marketers give social thumbs up

Facebook, which rolls out features and services on what seems like a weekly basis, has made itself central to how the world communicates online, and an increasingly vital component of any online marketing effort. While the social media marketplace has become more fractured and competitive, with Twitter, Foursquare, Ning and countless other players competing for attention and ad dollars, ?Facebook continues to dominate them all in audience and influence.

The social media behemoth has also begun a concerted effort to keep ad agencies and marketers in the loop, informing them of best practices and helping them with the creative portion of their campaigns, and many are reaping the benefits of Facebook’s fast-evolving offerings.?

Bacardi began its latest social marketing effort with Facebook’s famous “like” button, but sought to make it a more interactive and exciting device. The result was the brand’s “Like it Live, Like it Together” program, which invited fans to enter on its Facebook page for a chance to win tickets to one of two special concerts Bacardi hosted in New York and Las Vegas. ?

After signing up, entrants could vote on which features they would “like” to see at the event — a dunk contest or a dunk tank, pizza or tacos, and more. The event is part of a broader “Together” campaign by the spirit brand, which includes a TV spot, print ads, as well as in-store promotions with the tagline “mixes well with others.”?

“That idea of ‘mixes well with others’ really fits the brand and our message,” says Billy Melnyk, senior brand manager at Bacardi Rums. “The product mixes well as a cocktail — Bacardi and cola, or Bacardi mojito — but you also have the social aspect that people have a good time when drinking Bacardi, and that integrates well with Facebook’s social platform.”?

Melnyk sees the “Like it Together” promotion as a way to connect the online and real-world social network. Bacardi’s marketing team worked with Facebook’s developers as it put together the promotion, traveling to their offices in Palo Alto, Calif. as they developed the campaign. ?

Q&A: Sarah Personette, director of global agency relations, Facebook

Sarah Personette, director of global agency relations at Facebook, discusses her new unit.

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“They were really helpful as we developed our ideas — not just on a technical level but really helping us think through how we could do this,” says Melnyk.?

More than any other platform, Facebook is where consumers are today. Reaching more than 600 million people globally, the site overtook Google last year as the most visited site in the US according to Experian Hitwise. In 2010, the site grew its unique US visitors by 34% to 154 million. ?

But perhaps even more significant for Facebook’s long-term marketing potential is that the time users spent on the site on average grew 6% while average visits per user grew 29% during 2010, indicating that users are becoming increasingly more engaged in the social media platform. With Facebook such a significant part of consumers’ lives, some marketers are getting users’ attention by making the site not just the medium for their brand, but part of the message as well. ?

In March, Altoids launched “The Curiously Strong Awards,” which allowed users to post Facebook-related awards on their friends’ walls, such as “The Food-Ographer” for the friend who posts lots of pictures of their meals, or “The Friend Tycoon” who adds as many friends as they can, whether they know the people or not. Accompanied by a tongue-in-cheek music video, the campaign drew in 9,400 fans for Altoids in the first two weeks it ran, with 1,200 “Golden Tins” posted to individuals’ news feeds. ?

“The way people behave in this environment is relevant to our fans,” says Jennifer Jackson Luth, senior manager of marketing communications at Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. “We think everyone can relate to at least one of the Curiously Strong Awards, which makes this concept really culturally powerful.”?

Through its size and speed to move on opportunities, Facebook has worked to keep competitors at bay, often by challenging them at their own game. For the first quarter of 2011, the company commanded 31.2% of all display ads in the US, almost double its share for the same period the previous year, and three times the amount held by second-place Yahoo. ?

Facebook Places, rolled out in August of last year, has begun to move in on Foursquare’s location-based services and the local marketing opportunities they present. This program is also poised to help Facebook expand its role in mobile, where it already reaches 90% of US social media users and has grown more than 120% in the past year, according to comScore. ?

The pilot program of Facebook Deals, a response to Groupon and similar social discount services, has had a strong showing in the five US cities where it has launched, with Tim Beyers of The Motley Fool ?describing it as, “about to become a huge problem ?for Groupon.”?

“Some of these programs are in their early stages. It’s hard to say exactly how big their impact will be,” says Andrew Lipsman, senior director of industry analysis at comScore. “But marketers are seeing opportunities, especially when Facebook offers such a large audience who are spending so much time on the site.”?

Lipsman points to the promotion that Gap Inc. ran last November, giving away a pair of jeans to each of the first 10,000 people to check in to a Gap store using Facebook Places. ?

As many giveaways on the site do, it went viral and got Facebook users not only liking Gap in huge numbers, with the giveaway that posted on their newsfeed, but had them talking about the brand just as the holiday shopping season kicked in. ?

However, the recent move by Facebook that has most interested marketers has been its effort to reach out to ad agencies. While the company has primarily worked directly with brands, as it did with Bacardi, it is beginning to woo agencies as well. Earlier this year, Facebook created an agency relations team dedicated to advertiser outreach. In April, the company launched Facebook Studio, offering case studies of recent campaigns and examples of how marketers are using the site, as well as a series of Facebook Studio Live events (see sidebar below).?

“In the last few months, the agency team has been much more proactive in reaching out to us, coming out to our office to share some of the best practices that they’ve seen,” says Matt Wurst, director of digital communities for agency 360i. “They definitely seem to have recognized the need and the role that agencies are playing,” though he adds that, “they’re probably more focused on the paid media side than they are on the creative strategic side right now.?

Balancing ‘peaks and valleys’?

Besides the viral campaigns and “flash” promotions aimed at grabbing attention, the day-to-day activities on a Facebook brand page play an important role in keeping audiences engaged. Wurst describes this as a “peaks and valleys strategy,” where the “peaks” of heavy creative and paid media campaigns, including the use of Facebook’s Sponsored Stories, bring in a burst of new users who are then maintained and supplemented through the “valleys” of steady posts, updates and fan interactions.?

A survey of the Facebook pages of 30 leading national companies, conducted by Forrester Research, found that 86% had created multiple fan pages and cross-promoted them, while 93% used a vanity URL for the company Facebook page, such as, which helps boost the page in search results. A third-best practice Forrester found among top brands was promoting fan pages on the company website and vice versa.?

“I think the one thing that surprised me most was that there is no secret, no way that these big brands are gaming the system,” says Melissa Parrish, an analyst at Forrester Research and the author of the report. “It’s the marketers who are playing to the strengths of the platform, and know that consumers are on there for a social experience.” ?

Master social media ROI

Measuring the value of marketing efforts on Facebook ?remains a mix of art and science. While most marketers agree that putting an exact value on the fans, shares or interaction on Facebook is difficult, they do express optimism that the Facebook ROI moment is not far off.

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NBC Universal’s Facebook efforts reflect the value of managing numerous individual pages under one brand-wide umbrella. While each page for the company’s dozens of shows and channels runs specific content and updates for the fans of brands such as 30 Rock, The Biggest Loser or Bravo, each also lists other NBC shows under its “likes,” and occasionally posts content from the other pages, encouraging fan crossover. ?

The coordination of the overall brand effort was illustrated during “Healthy Week” at NBC Universal in mid-May. In addition to the on-air programming that added themes about healthy living to their productions, NBC Universal tapped Buddy Media to create a tab on every one of its individual show pages. ?

These included apps such as the “Go Healthy Pledge Maker,” where visitors would commit to healthy changes in their lives, an area asking questions about favorite workout songs and stress relievers, as well as videos of healthy tips. The person running each page could add their own messages about Healthy Week, tailored for the show’s audience.?

“It’s our goal to take this positive message and bring it to where the audience already is,” says Debra Goetz, VP of Healthy at NBC Universal, who also oversees similar cross-platform efforts during Green is Universal, the company’s environmental awareness week. “NBC’s Facebook page just has 75,000 fans, but some our show pages have hundreds of thousands.” ?

The Forrester report also found that brands with a strong presence on Facebook posted at least once a day, including videos and rich content that draw in visitors. According to Forrester Research, the pages that frequently post this kind of rich content enjoy an average of 19 times more fans than those that do not. ?

As demand for this kind of timely and customized content on Facebook has grown, marketers have rushed to fill the need. At the end of May, iCrossing launched Live Media Studio, which creates branded content including articles, interviews, tips, videos and infographics in real-time, tailored specifically to the audience the brand is trying to target. ?

“It used to be that custom tabs on the Facebook pages were the main focus for marketers, but the users are tending to stay on the main news page,” says Alisa Leonard, VP of strategy and planning at iCrossing. “Keeping fresh content there has become much ?more important.”?

Funny and interactive content has been central to AT&T’s Facebook strategy. Looking to boost the sales of its smartphones, particularly to teens, AT&T launched its “Plead Your Case” campaign during the lead up to the holiday season last year. The promotion, developed with BBDO New York and Tool of North America, included customized videos featuring the fictional lawyer Roger Gideon, who would lay out the case with the utmost seriousness of why that user deserved a smartphone. ?

Users could select which phone model they wanted and who would receive the message, as well as add in personal photos and information to make the video particularly memorable when it was posted to the parent’s or friend’s wall.?

“It’s something that kind of personifies our brand in a funny way, in a shticky way, that we think youth particularly can connect to,” says Jenn Fischer, head of digital, social media and youth marketing at AT&T. “Facebook gives us a platform that neither AT&T nor the customers own, but we get together there and kind of talk and have a conversation.”?

The company did a media buy that allowed them to target the age demographic, as well as fans of The Onion. The campaign generated twice AT&T’s average sales for an online promotion, at one of the lowest cost-per-order rates across online media for all of 2010. ?

Beyond dot com?

However, Facebook’s greatest marketing potential may lie outside of The company’s Open Graph protocol allows marketers to integrate their websites or external applications into Facebook’s “social graph,” allowing retailers, publishers and merchants to show visitors what their friends clicked on or read.?

One of the most prominent adopters of this Facebook API has been search engine Bing, which launched its “Friend Effect” tool in mid-May. It integrates the likes from friends and family into the search process. The shift to a more social search makes a strong Facebook presence even more important for brands aiming to get their links and products promoted in search.?

Facebook’s Open Graph can also be incorporated directly into campaigns. Digital agency Firstborn recently personalized a promotion for Wrigley 5 Gum using the API. When users already logged into Facebook visited, they would see a screen that walked them down a hallway to a laboratory where video screens of their own friends and photos covered the walls. ?

“It was an eerily personal experience,” says Firstborn’s president Dan LaCivita. “It wasn’t on Facebook, but it created that social experience.”?

Open Graph can even be taken outside the browser altogether. At this year’s South by Southwest festival, Firstborn set up a kiosk for the drink brand SoBe where attendees could “Try Your New Look,” using an interactive touchscreen to give themselves different hairstyles, sunglasses or other features. The video was recorded and the person received a quick response code. By scanning it, the video would post to their wall, taking content created in the real world and tying it back to Facebook.?

While Facebook is where an increasing number of consumers develop their relationships with companies and learn about new products, it remains an open question whether the platform can move to the next step of e-commerce and direct sales. Startups like 8thBridge and Payvment enable companies like Delta Air Lines, 1-800-Flowers and Brooks Brothers to sell their products directly on Facebook, but data on the success of Facebook e-commerce has so far been tepid. ?

A study from Forrester Research released in April found that links posted on Facebook receive a 1% click-through rate and a 2% conversion rate, compared to email marketing, which enjoys averages of 11% click-throughs and 4% conversions. A report from digital analytics company Webtrends found even lower figures, reporting that click-through rates on Facebook dropped from 0.063% in 2009, to just 0.051% in 2010.?

“In spite of the fact that hundreds of millions of people around the world have Facebook accounts, the ability of the social network to drive revenue for e-commerce businesses continues to remain elusive,” writes Sucharita Mulpuru, VP and principal analyst at Forrester. ?

She describes Facebook’s place in the marketing mix for consumer packaged goods and other products as “top of the funnel” — more valuable as a branding tool than for generating sales directly. ?

Facebook disputed this, pointing out that the company’s referral traffic to grew 328% year-over-year in October 2010, while Google’s dropped 2%, and referral traffic to eBay grew 81% for Facebook, while it dropped 3% for Google. ?

Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor, an e-commerce software provider, believes that while an “f-commerce” service might not have arrived, Facebook’s track record makes it worth preparing for.?

“There will be a lot more innovation around Facebook,” explains Wingo. “And when it happens, it will happen very quickly. We’re advocates for being ready for that, watching what is happening and having a page, because when the spark hits, it’s not going to be a slow smolder.”

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