Bubbling in the background was Facebook. Facebook began in February 2004 as a Harvard social-networking site and has since rapidly grown to become a global phenomenon (announcing in July that it had more than 500 million users). It is visited more often than Google, but it is only recently that marketers have really been able to harness the power of this rapidly developing media.
Today, brands are highly attuned to the power of Facebook, and they have realised that they must be where the consumers are. Right now consumers are on Facebook, so why would you invest thousands developing a microsite that sits in the wilderness of the internet when you can knock up a Facebook page in a day for free? Especially when one of the biggest barriers -- a lack of insight on performance and ROI into Facebook investment -- has recently been removed.
Food and drink brands are doing incredibly well with their marketing efforts in this channel, for example, Coca-Cola (11 million), Starbucks (13 million) and Red Bull (eight million). When people 'like' these brands, it is more a statement about their lifestyle and their preferences and choices: they want their friends and peers to know that they drink these products, but they wouldn't necessarily visit the website. The engagement and messaging used by these companies appeals to people to start a conversation. Take a look at Red Bull, which has aligned itself with the extreme sports world: the brand's Facebook page encourages customers to think that liking Red Bull will bring them one step closer to living on the edge themselves.
And it's not just the microsite that Facebook has in its sights: brands are now moving away from traditional online marketing methods, for example posting banner or button ads on websites. Many digital businesses have optimised their website design around these advertising options, but in reality, how many people have actually clicked through on these links? Facebook has provided a new option for the kind of brands that would traditionally have chosen to advertise on these banners.
Viral marketing leads the way when it comes to establishing a successful Facebook profile: apps like Farmville for example, which opened the door for so many others back in 2007 or Facebook memes, concepts or ideas (also images and videos) that catch on and spread quickly on the web, like the bra colour status update used by Breakthrough Breast Cancer. One of the most effective ways to drive traffic to your Facebook page and track results is to include a 'like' or 'fan box' widget to your website. Cinema chain Cineworld has been using this to great effect and is able to trace its most influential 'likers' to gain a greater understanding of its marketing channels whilst engaging with consumers according to their preferences.
To overlook a Facebook profile is to miss out on a huge opportunity. However, achieving the same kind of success as experienced by the likes of Coca-Cola and Red Bull can be difficult because businesses and brands can be somewhat limited by what they sell. If you are a small company which deals in products that aren't engaging, like concrete or electrical components, devoting a huge amount of your marketing budget to Facebook would be a mistake because the number of people who will be interested will be minimal.
On top of the viral marketing opportunities, Facebook now allows location specific campaigns. Further key demographic information can be gathered using this channel, offering huge benefits for marketers. It won't be too long before marketers will be able to monitor status updates, so relevant products could be marketed direct to the consumer in their geographical location. A bit scary maybe, but it presents an opportunity to demonstrate relevancy and deliver something that correlates directly to that person's wants and needs.
With the take off of viral marketing in Facebook, the enhanced measurement and analysis options, and the availability of demographic information to tailor campaigns and advertising, ultimately Facebook has signed the microsite's death certificate. Over the next few years we will see the decline of investment in this kind of site unless there is a new innovation in microsite design.
Christian Howes is head of solution engineering (EMEA), Webtrends