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Facebook-savvy brands that might surprise you

Facebook-savvy brands that might surprise you Roland Smart

Inside the social media echo-chamber, the pressure to bring brands onto Facebook is intense. Amid the rush, many brands lose sight of why they're going there in the first place, when they should have a clear focus on how they'll deliver ongoing value to their community on the platform. These are still early days, as big brands that can afford to invest heavily on the platform are still experimenting and learning. And, it's important to note that not all brands belong on Facebook. In this article, I'll discuss a handful of unlikely brands that have invested in the platform in order to highlight some questions you should be asking yourself to determine if Facebook makes sense for your brand. Hopefully some of the examples will also inspire you.

For the purposes of this article, I'm focusing on fan pages and apps on fan pages because these are the foundation for brands that are developing their presences on Facebook. If you're interested in learning more about how fan pages fit into the overall engagement cycle on Facebook, please check out my presentation from Sprout's Social Media Summit, which explains this in detail.

How can my brand deliver value that's unique to Facebook?
Delivering value on social networks requires a deep understanding of why your community members are there and what kinds of behaviors they practice. Even not-so-sexy brands can find ways to deeply engage their communities if they can identify the intersection of an online behavior and their product or service offerings.

Staples offers a great example of this on its fan page. The company noticed that users are sometimes tagged in photos they don't like on Facebook. This is a pain-point that Staples transforms into a fun experience through the "I Shred U" application that is embedded in its fan page. The application lets users select an offending photo that they can then send through a variety of Staples shredders and then post to their friends' stream with a custom message and sound. The application also offers users the opportunity to "trick" the photos by adding speech bubbles, additional artwork, and messages. Check out the experience on the fan page

Is there a place for B2B brands on Facebook?
The demographics of Facebook are rapidly evolving, and some of the fastest growing segments are in unexpected areas. For example, Hewlett-Packard's fastest growing community on Facebook is for retired employees. As demographics change, there will be more and more opportunity for B2B brands to develop a presence on Facebook. For the moment, however, those pioneering B2B brands typically have a consumer division. Staples is an example of this. Boca Bearing Co. is another. Its page includes a Twitter feed, videos featuring educational content about bearings, a product catalog with quick links to purchase from the company's site, as well as links to other social content.

In many respects, Boca Bearings has created a hub on Facebook that extends its website onto the platform and aggregates its social efforts. This does offer some value to the community simply by bringing content closer; however, future development might include platform-exclusive promotions or competitions to drive deeper community engagement.

Before pursuing these opportunities, however, brands should consider how they are segmenting their communities. In this case, Boca Bearing is actually serving an "RC Hobbies" community, a "Recreation" community, and its B2B community. Facebook might be a great place to showcase user-generated video content or host a competition based on that content for each one of these communities. But does it make sense to have them all on the same page? There is definitely a small but growing opportunity for B2B brands on Facebook, but they need to focus carefully on these kinds of questions in order to be successful.

What works when launching a presence on Facebook?
There are many different approaches to developing a presence on Facebook, but brands seem to be increasingly coming to the game with a plan to jumpstart their communities through promotional offers. Last year, Intel challenged Sprout to create a new Facebook fan page and application for the company, with the goal of building a significant Intel community on Facebook. The result was a fan page with an embedded application that empowered the community to lower the price on three laptops in advance of Cyber Monday. In less than two weeks, Intel reached hundreds of thousands of people and acquired more than 24,000 new fans.

You don't have to be a giant brand like Intel to do this successfully though. Sprout also worked with a hair products company named Living Proof on a new fan page that helped boost its community from 800 fans to 10,000 fans in just a few months. One of the keys to success was embedding a free sample offer into the homepage experience. Another was an exceptionally clean brand experience that included the company's blog feed, a Twitter feed, direct access to customer service, styling tips, and video content about how the brand's products are made and work. Finally, one of the most engaging elements of the experience is an interactive questionnaire that guides users to the product that is most appropriate for their hair types and styling preferences.

How can my brand leverage competitions and philanthropy?
Many brands have had success leveraging competitions and campaigns that are connected to charitable causes. Recently, Clorox did both with its Clorox Clean-Up "Power a Bright Future" grant campaign. This is another example of a brand that does not seem to be an immediate fit for Facebook, yet the company found a way to deliver value to a community there. The key was to empower fans to help direct five grants of $10,000 back into their communities.

Participants in the contest were asked to submit a photo and a short message about the cause they wanted to fund. A panel of influential children's advocates selected finalists based on the impact of the program on kids, the quality of the entry sent in, and the potential for the grant to help the program grow. After that, the public was given a chance to vote on Facebook for the winners. All voting participants received a Clorox Clean-Up coupon as a thank-you for voting.

Chase is currently running a campaign that takes this approach one step further with its Chase Community Giving program. The experience allows users to vote for as many as 20 local charities for the opportunity to get a slice of a $5 million funding pool. In short, Chase is crowd-sourcing the direction of funds to local charities.

One final note about competitions on Facebook: You'll want to steer clear of competitions that require Facebook actions to participate. Facebook rules make it clear that the network doesn't want to be on the hook for anything that could affect the outcome of a competition. For example, sharing something with friends cannot be a requirement to participate in a competition.

Can it just be about entertainment?
Sometimes the best opportunity for brands online is to simply provide some entertainment and education to their communities. Adobe is another brand that wouldn't seem like a natural fit for Facebook because it has other active community sites where users solve problems and share tips. Last year, however, Adobe created a fun experience for its community that presented fans with a series of images and asked them if they were "real" or "fake" (i.e., manipulated with Adobe's software). If a particular photo had been "faked," a tutorial showed how it had been done.

In this case, Adobe realized there was a community on Facebook that it was not reaching through its other channels -- namely, college students. The company used its Facebook experience to engage these new users and provide them with information about deep discounts that were available to students enrolled in college programs. The mix of fun, education, and promotional information effectively grew the brand's community base to more than 42,000 fans.

The takeaway
There is no shortage of unlikely brands finding success on Facebook by driving brand awareness, lead generation, engagement, and sales. And, as these are still relatively early days, there are still many opportunities for brands to think outside of the box and create new experiences.

In many ways, the biggest challenge is matching a community need against a solution that fits with your brand and into your larger social strategy. Brands that are looking for more inspiration should visit the Facebook Preferred Developer list. Sprout was one of only a handful of companies that launched with this program back in 2009, and there are now almost 50 companies there today.

Roland Smart is senior director of marketing for Sprout.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Roland Smart serves as the VP of Social Marketing at Oracle where he oversees a range of programs supporting the Oracle marketer and developer communities. As such, he focuses on technologies that enable Oracle's vision for the social enabled...

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