Facebook applications deliver that much-beloved engagement factor -- and marketers have begun to demonstrate that these interactions translate into better awareness and actually boost sales.
Facebook Connect, launched in December 2008, enables applications to perform double-duty as display ads. When you add an application, Facebook lets everyone know about it by automatically placing a comment in your news feed -- the running list of all actions you've performed (and opted to make public). In other words, the marketing content is passively distributed without the user having to choose to share it -- and at no additional cost to the marketer.
Because of the somewhat random nature of many users' lists of "friends" (which often include people they've never met), brands have an opportunity, simply by showing up in the news feed, to gain exposure to consumers who lie outside the expected target.
Let's take a look at how five brands made new friends.
Oakley wanted establish an emotional connection with its core audience of men 15 to 28, so MEA Digital, its interactive agency of record, went to Appssavvy for a campaign that was "more organic than an ad," says Tamara Bousquet, MEA media director. The resulting app, a product integration with the game Rock Legends, let people dress their avatars in Oakley gear.
In the Rock Legends game, Facebook users can form bands with friends and play gigs to earn virtual money, which they can use to buy equipment and clothing -- including 14 Oakley products. As they win battles of the bands, they move up in ranking until they get to compete against a "branded" band made up of Oakley's athlete spokespeople.
This is the third Facebook application for Oakley. "It's a different kind of media planning," Bousquet says. "They can actually touch and feel [a product], and get more excited about it, instead of saying 'Click here.'"
Appssavvy says Facebook marketers should identify key performance metrics based on the particular campaign. This campaign's goals were building awareness, preference, and purchase consideration. Although Oakley and MEA weren't as interested in hard metrics as in the user experience, 300,000 products were purchased within the game, and there were more than 3 million custom Oakley gigs.
Appssavvy's Chris Cunningham points out that an important element of Facebook apps is unpaid impressions: the mentions in news feeds and actions taken with the application. The Rock Legends Oakley campaign delivered 3.5 million paid and 129 million unpaid impressions.
Beyond impressions, paid or unpaid, MEA's Bousquet says the campaign's value lies in increased consideration and preference. "They think, 'I didn't know Oakley had those cool shades.' Then they go into an Oakley store and purchase the product," she says. That is, after having practiced the purchase in Rock Legends, of course.
JanSport, maker of backpacks and outdoor gear, already had a Facebook fan page. Like many marketers, it grappled with the issue of how to make it work harder. "What do you do after you've built this great community? You can't browse our site or buy anything on Facebook, so how do you bridge those two together?" asks Laurie Heller, marketing communications manager for JanSport.
In April, JanSport.com launched Facebook Connect technology from Fluid, a marketing agency that specializes in what it calls social shopping.
"We know that the biggest influence on purchase is the opinion of family and friends, so we want to get their opinion before they leave the JanSport site," says Fluid CEO Andy Lloyd. Sure, you could email your friends with a link to the product, but you'd have to wait for response. With Fluid, visitors to the ecommerce site can choose to share a product on Facebook, and also to search the network to see if any friends have rated or commented on the product. When you share, the product automatically shows up in the Facebook feed, where an average of 120 people in the network will see it -- along with an attractive icon showing the product.
JanSport visitors who interact with the Fluid application view an average of 58.9 percent more product pages during their shopping sessions and spend 147.6 percent more time on the site than the average site visitor.
"This allows us to leverage our success on Facebook and engage the community on JanSport.com," Heller says.
Microsoft was rebranding its search -- again. The company needed to differentiate a commoditized, also-ran product and get people excited about it. To address the first problem, it chose a happy new name, Bing, and did a 360 from Google's stripped-down interface by splashing a new, lusciously colored photo across the homepage each day.
The company had already worked with Context Optional on Quiztopia, an app that showcased Live Search, so it came back to the social application developer to help build awareness of the new Bing. They created a contest that lets people submit their photos via Facebook, with winners to be featured on Bing. During the submission period, entrants were encouraged to get their friends to vote, and anyone could rate the submissions.
While there are contests every day that get people to click on a link and end up on a microsite, Kevin Barenblat, co-founder of Context Optional, says that Facebook amplifies the media buy. In the Bing contest, more than 10,000 photos were submitted, and they received more than 450,000 ratings. Remember, each time someone rated a photo, the action showed up in his or her news feed.
"Photos and images really stand out in Facebook feeds," Barenblat says. About 29 percent of those who participated in some way came from a media buy of display ads on the login page or on the right-hand side of the interface. The rest was organic, from friends asking friends to vote, seeing it in the streams, or reading discussion boards.
When campaigns don't tie into Facebook's potential for sharing, Barenblat says, "It's leaving money for branded interaction on the table."
Facebook -- and the internet in general -- may have taken over for bars and cafes as the "third place," but LivingSocial has found a way to get users off their butts and into the doors of local businesses. LivingSocial is a tool that lets enthusiasts review and share movies, books, games, music, restaurants, and kinds of beer. The network, with 60 million users -- 25 million of whom come back at least monthly -- integrates with Facebook and other social sites.
On August 31, LivingSocial launched LivingSocial Deals, an app that alerts members to offers at local businesses. The service started in Washington, D.C., with versions for New York City and Boston in the works. There's one deal a day, on sale for one day only. Merchants can set the price, put a cap on how many coupons they'll offer, and set a time limit for redemption.
For example, a spa that provides hot stone massages for $140 cut the price to $35. The merchant hoped to sell at least 30. In the end, 350 people snapped up the coupons. LivingSocial sends out the coupons, collects the money, takes a cut, and pays the merchant.
"This is what local merchants have been trying to do, whether in the Yellow Pages or on Craigslist," LivingSocial CEO Kevin O'Shaughnessy says. "It's very low risk to them, and they can measure it."
Of course, selling advertising to SMBs is a labor-intensive business. O'Shaughnessy says limiting the promotions to one deal per market makes it doable for his local sales force. Promoting LivingSocial Deals to consumers was easy; the company put the word out via its other social applications.
The question is, will someone who springs for a $35 massage come back again at $140? According to O'Shaughnessy, "Once they're in the store, it's up to the merchant to convert them."
American Express, that stateliest of credit card companies, has moved a hefty share of its marketing budget into social media. In July, it launched a community for small business owners and plans to release a tool to filter Twitter content, called The Pulse.
Amex is beta-testing Get Together on Facebook. Get Together researches U.S. roundtrip airfares for Facebook friends who live at least 100 miles away from each other. The application looks at the user's and friends' locations and delivers the best fares. Clicking "book now" takes them to the American Express Travel site to buy the tickets.
Amex wasn't very sociable to us, refusing to provide information or comment, but Alexandra Gebhardt, chief social strategist for Inside Media Networks, a developer of social and online content distribution strategies, gave the company props for its strategy. "They're not just letting interns run wild or throwing stuff up and seeing what sticks," she says. "Obviously, someone sat in a boardroom and made these decisions."
Get Together plays to Amex's strengths and the market's demands. "Most participants in Amex's membership awards program love it," Gebhardt says. "And most travel today is booked online." The application, she adds, offers Facebook users a way to connect in person while they're connecting online.
"This is a really good implement with the available technology," Gebhardt says. "The more brands that accept this as another tool, the better stuff we'll see coming down the line."
Susan Kuchinskas is a freelance writer who has written for Adweek, Business 2.0, M-Business and internetnews.com.
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