Friday, December 7, 2007

The Brave New World of Facebook Marketing

Separating the hype from the help for marketers intrigued by what Facebook might offer them

Facebook has received so much hype of late, that any digital marketing strategy might be seen as wanting if it doesn’t contain a Facebook plan. And Facebook does offer quite a few options, from what I’ve seen – but some seem a lot more interesting than others. Below is my own, highly subjective assessment of some of the options currently available to marketers –plus a few more services that I’d try out if Facebook would someday offer them:

The Facebook Page
The answer to every brand manager’s question “where’s my brand’s Facebook page?” (formerly “where’s my MySpace page?”), I suppose not having one would seem pretty old school. Thousands of brands are listed on Facebook, both corporate sponsored (“the official Sprite facebook page”) and fan generated “addicted to Coca-Cola)
· Positives: you can at least tell your CMO that yes, you do have a Facebook page, and therefore are connected with the youth of today. And, a Facebook page can be a great tool to notify users and fans of special offers, events, promotions, etc.
· Drawbacks: some brands seem better suited to a Facebook page than others (e.g., Maroon 5 vs. Tide detergent). And, those fan generated ones seem so much more sincere and effective than the “official” profiles. I’d rather spend my money encouraging fans to create their own profiles about my product.

Hypertargeted Ads
This most obvious of uses simply looks at users preferences and profiles, and delivers ads based on this information. It’s thought to be superior to say, MySpace’s targeted ads, since anonymous profiles are not permitted and users are therefore thought to be more honest about what they reveal about themselves.
· Positives: highly contextual. At least in theory, hyper-targeted ads should be hyer-relevant to the user
· Negatives: you can either be too targeted and big brother-ish, or not targeted enough and come off like those TIVO suggestions that don’t make sense. The ideal is a happy medium where users don’t think they’re being tracked, just that Facebook magically knows exactly what they want and when they want it – just like a good friend should.

Facebook shopping – users can opt to have their friends alerted when they make an e-commerce purchase; e.g., twenty of your friends have just purchased “Microtrends” on Amazon.
· Positives: this is being heavily hyped by Facebook, largely because it leverages user preferences and behavior to facilitate the word of mouth recommendations that all marketers covet.
· Negatives: once again, the Big Brother risk: do you really want the world to know about your hemorrhoid medication purchased at; or your spouse to see the copy of “Your Divorce Advisor” from

Brand as widget advertising:
Going beyond the Facebook page, marketers can now create widgets built around their brands. For example, Red Bull Roshambull allows users to challenge their friends in a “rock paper scissors” type game. “Sprite Sips” a customizable animated character based on the Sprite brand.
· Positives: classic permission marketing, users are only interrupted if they really want it; a really clver and useful app that organically springs from the brand could score big on visibility, engagement, brand values and all those other cool KPIs.
· Negatives: the brand based apps that I’ve seen seem to either shoehorn a brand into a traditional game or challenge, or reflect too much brand and not enough utility. I couldn’t help but notice that brands or products have inspired many an app (e..g, Starbuck’s app, Fast Food Fight featuring McDonald’s products, Wedding Crashers app). I’d rather offer tools, like images and information, to the app-o-sphere and let them keep on developing apps around my brands, but with approved content.

And here’s a few that aren’t (as far as I know) being offered, but perhaps should:
· Facebook Intelligence: Facebook has the raw material to predict and assess market trends, teen/young adult consumption behavior, and slice and dice it by demographic, psychographic and every other criteria a marketer can dream up. All they need is someone to analyze and package the info into actionable bites for today’s data hungry and time starved marketer.
· Facebook research: surveys, quizzes, online focus groups with the youth of America (and the world). The recruiting pool alone is enough to launch this service, as no one else has as great an ability to gather a representative sample of marketers’ increasingly specific target audiences.
· Facebook evangelists: with all that data, I’m sure that Facebook could easily find, say, 100 teen thought leaders to sample and evangelize anything from new athletic shoes to face cream. Yes, these evangelists can add applications, include brand video on their walls, etc., but there’s no reason marketers can’t send them free samples and ask (or incent) them to promote the products offline as well.

My overall assessment? Facebook offers some interesting new opportunities for contextual advertising – I would put a few dollars of my marketing budget towards testing some of these out. However, there are certain risks that could undercut Facebook’s intention to change advertising for the “next hundred years” (as they predict): users may see some of the products as a little too contextual and have privacy concerns; users may not be entirely frank about what they reveal about themselves (I have personally seen quite a few fibs in friends’ profiles); and finally, as Facebook appears to have supplanted MySpace as the social networking site de jour, might another “disruptive” giant be waiting in the wings?

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