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Avoid these Facebook faux pas

Avoid these Facebook faux pas Evan Gerber

The casual person perusing social networking sites will frequently come across the littered remains of big brands that tried and failed to stage viral campaigns on the medium. The fact of the matter is that social networking is great, if it's done right. But when it's not, it tends to flop gracelessly. Go to Facebook and search the sponsored groups. These sponsored groups have their own customized navigation, look and feel, and they are often accompanied by a significant media buy to drive traffic to the page -- to the tune of six figures. That said, it is possible to set up group pages for free. Either way, the company posting its presence on the network is exposing itself to risk.

This article will explore a few common mistakes that brands have made and will offer some tips to consider in order to have better luck next time.

Author notes: Evan Gerber is principal experience design consultant at Molecular.Read full bio.

Before jumping into social networks, it's important to take a look at the numbers and realize that there are a lot more failures than successes. The following chart makes it pretty clear -- there are a few highly successful group pages, but even within the 10 largest, the drop in membership is exponential. After that, the numbers become much smaller and stretch out into a long tail of obscurity. 

It is essential that brands attempting to foray into the social networking space understand that the key demographic is fickle, there is no guarantee of success, and best practices are at times nebulous and highly dependent on the individual brand and project goals. A good first step is to search for brands with similar demographics, or goals, and see what they are doing on social networks and how they are faring with their attempts. Also, do some serious soul searching.
Are you embarking on a social networking campaign because someone thinks it's cool, or because it fits in with a larger approach? Think of it like any other marketing channel -- if it's not part of a larger holistic strategy, it's likely to fail.

When creating a node in a social network, it's essential that the business have a strategy. It's about much more than just throwing content up on the site and hoping for the best. Facebook is about facilitating communications about the brand more than about talking to the end users.

Do it right and people will be on the site professing their love of the product.

Do it wrong and the brand voice will ring out stale and false, turning off users from the site and the product.

To succeed, determine how the page will provide value to the audience. Then decide on what content should be offered, based on the proposed business value as well as user needs. After that, launch the site, and make sure that the audience is aware of it and will want to interact.

The popular brand Mountain Dew has a paltry 1,780 friends. There is some interesting content on the page but no real reason or functionality to inspire engagement. While the brand gets great feedback from its devout audience, it stands to reason that a better thought-out campaign could do much more to propagate across the network. On the other hand, Ticketmaster Live has an abundance of great content: upcoming music releases, contests for free tickets and downloads have gathered an audience of 161,202 group members.


Just because the group pages are free is not an invitation to create a multitude of nodes on the Facebook network. Like a web presence, the pages must be maintained and managed over time. Not only does each page require thoughtful and compelling content, it needs someone to watch over it, interact with the audience and post new material. Warner Bros. created a large number of pages but did not flesh out any one of them.

Each page looks desolate and dull, which is reflected in the low member counts in their group pages. It may not have cost Warner Bros. much to set up these pages, but they are paying for it now with lackluster content on this large social network.

Procter and Gamble does a lot of great work with new media, and given its budget, it's no surprise that the execution is often impeccable. Its Crest Whitestrips groups page, however, is somewhat less than might be hoped for. With 8,696 members, it's only in the 50th percentile, but at least it's halfway there. Its "Smiler" application, on the other hand, might make its marketing manager frown. With only two active daily users, it is clear that the application is not as successful as the brand would have liked.

Users do check to see who made the application and how many others are using it. If the numbers start out low, they will likely stay low. When developing applications, make sure that there is a critical mass of users who can seed the application and make sure that it will be adopted.

In general, applications can be a challenging proposition; most users only have a few applications installed in their Facebook profiles, which they use on a regular basis, and it is difficult to develop something compelling for them.

When developing a group page for Facebook, make sure there is a solid strategy for the brand or product that really benefits from social networking. Incorporate it into a holistic approach and provide interesting content in an authentic voice that inspires interaction.

Resist the temptation to blast out content just because it's cheap; the short-term gains will be offset by long-term maintenance costs. While the numbers look daunting, and there are many more small failures than large successes on Facebook group pages, there is still a lot of room for positive interaction with consumers, provided that the user experience is well planned out and compelling.

Since the late ‘90s, Evan Gerber has created innovated technology solutions for unique business problems. Evan is the Vice President of Mobile Design and Emerging Interactions at Fidelity Investments.  An avid technophile and self...

View full biography


to leave comments.

Commenter: John Kaduwanema

2008, March 10

I think any social networking site is a calculated risk. You submit personal information and you are never quite sure how it is going to be used. I do some SEO work onblood pressure monitors and my work involves visiting some healthcare related sites. You will be amazed at how much information is in the hands of the network operators. They can literally do anything with it.

Commenter: Marc Porcelli

2008, March 10

Great pointers, Facebook has it's challenges, but the upside can be attained.

I am a DR advertiser, so I tend to shy away from any advertising like the group pages, which skew very much towards brand advertisers. In a recent blog post I spoke about Facebook's model and the importance of their sales team. I also discussed the sponsored story listings http://www.marcporcelli.com/2008/03/09/facebook%e2%80%99s-future-lies-in-their-sales-team%e2%80%99s-hands and importance of new placement offerings which readers of this article may find appealing.

Commenter: Josh Gray

2008, March 10

This is a really good article and it addresses some very important points. What most brands fail to understand about social media is that when you create a page like this it takes on a life of its own. That being said, if the page is left with no follow up or maintenance, will die.

In any advertising we must consider that when we take the time to plant the seed, we must also take the time to nurture the plant if we expect to harvest the fruit. It's a very easy concept that most marketing "professionals" still don't get.

Add value, make the message clear and compelling then give your social media campaign the backup it needs to work. Maintain your brand and don't loose track of the conversation.