For most marketers, Facebook apps probably conjure up images of staff members wasting precious hours tending their "crops" on FarmVille or rubbing out their adversaries in Mafia Wars. But while a handful of apps have skyrocketed into the cultural stratosphere, brands that have deployed their own apps have used Facebook to make powerful emotional connections with users.
To shine a spotlight on some of the best work in this small but impactful channel, the iMedia editorial staff has selected 10 of the most original and compelling branded Facebook apps.
Read on for profiles and visuals of each of these stellar apps. In the spirit of social media, we invite each of you to take a moment to play with each and share your comments with the rest of the iMedia community.
"Museum of Me"
At a time when anyone can be the center of their own media universe and everyone is capable of internet fame (no matter how fleeting), it's easy to understand the allure of Intel's "Museum of Me" app. Yes, it's vain to think yourself worthy of your own digital museum, but it's also a brilliant move on Intel's part.
For years, the brand has been telling a technology story, casting its computing power as the engine that drives our digital world. But with "Museum of Me," Intel has taken that message and personalized it by creating a video that takes users through a "visual archive of your social life." And while executing on that concept is impressive in its own right, doing so in less than a minute leaves users with a powerful emotional connection to the technology brand.
As for the tour, everyone's experience is different because we all lead different lives. But in general, users can see rooms that showcase profile pictures of friends, personal photos, videos from their profiles, and more. The tour also includes status updates and other content that's been posted to the user's wall.
Intel asks fans to enter the "Museum of Me." The price of admission: your Facebook login:
Inside the "Museum of Me:" The photos that make up your social life online:
Intel's "Museum of Me" introductory video:
"Link, Like, Love"
"Liking" something on Facebook usually doesn't translate into anything more than a passing action for the users and a notch on a given metric for the brand. But with its "Link, Like, Love" app, American Express has taken a rather mundane Facebook experience and created real value for its customers.
By signing up on the American Express Facebook page and linking their credit card account, users can receive offers and deals specifically targeted to their Facebook activities. For example, if you say you like a particular musician, you might get an offer to see that person in concert -- at a discount. But while targeted offers are common online, the real innovation with "Link, Like, Love" is that American Express took the friction out of the purchase. Once the offer is extended, users need only tap a button on the Facebook page and swipe their card at the point of purchase.
Sports Authority, H&M, Lord & Taylor, Outback Steakhouse, Lenovo, Dunkin' Donuts, 20th Century Fox, and Celebrity Cruises are among the merchants that have agreed to participate in the program.
A simple call to action:
The offer users can't refuse:
"Link, Like, Love" lets users claim deals without the hassle:
"100 Cars for Good"
It's hard to quibble with a noble cause, and Toyota's "100 Cars for Good" is both noble and deliciously simple. Using a dedicated Facebook app, nonprofits make a brief mission statement and then explain how they would use a new car to carry on their work. Then it's up to Toyota's Facebook community to vote on the winners.
But rather than overloading the web with a concentrated blitz, Toyota smartly decided to roll out the voting one day at a time for 100 days. That decision helped to shine a spotlight on each cause, but it also gave the brand an ongoing opportunity to reach cause-conscious consumers on a day-to-day basis.
In the same vein, Toyota's decision to reach out to local nonprofits (rather than larger, better-known national charities) gave the campaign a kind of a genuine grassroots appeal. And for users who participated, there was the added bonus of taking a small action and seeing tangible results in their own communities.
Toyota engages its community with a 100-day do-gooder campaign:
A San Francisco nonprofit makes its pitch to the Facebook community:
Toyota takes the opportunity to explain its commitment to philanthropy:
If men today need help, Dockers wants to be the brand that lends a hand. But rather than asking men to do something specific, the brand took the bold step of putting the ball in the hands of the guys who wear Dockers pants, and rewarding the best submissions with cash and resources through the "Man Grants" app.
The entries were as diverse as the brand's fans. Men pitched ideas that ranged from starting a men's fiction magazine, to providing youth with an environmental outdoor education program. One contestant even managed to make a strong showing with a plan to open a brewpub.
Each winning idea has the stamp of approval from the Dockers community, which is simultaneously redefining manhood and the Dockers brand with its ideas and votes. But what makes the "Man Grants" app especially attractive -- aside from its super-simple entry process -- is that Dockers built it in a way that makes it a fresh, ongoing experience by suggesting general themes for submissions as the contest rolls on. So, for example, after a general call to action, Dockers has asked men to share something they've always been afraid to do.
With a slightly tongue-in-cheek tone, Dockers asks men to send in their ideas:
Dockers announces its "Man Grant" winners:
Dockers keeps it fresh with new promotional themes:
"Retro Smooth Photo Generator"
A lot of brands put out apps that enable users to upload and customize photos of themselves, but few brands do it as well as beverage maker Mello Yello. While the goofy retro feel is obviously consistent with the brand's voice and a natural fit for young consumers, the "Retro Smooth Photo Generator" app itself offers a splendid combination of simplicity and choice.
An easy-to-use scaling and rotating tool makes it simple for users to adjust their photo to get the most out of the choices that follow. Users can add funky hairstyles, outrageous beards, props (think ascot or peace-symbol necklace), and, of course, a pair of really stylish shades.
The whole process takes about a minute from start to finish, making the app a fun toy with a low cost of entry. And when you've finally got your look down, Mello Yello rewards you with a randomly generated "retro smooth" name. As an added bonus, users can also take a quick "Smooth Operator" quiz to determine just how smooth they really are.
A simple call to action invites Facebook users to mellow out and adopt a retro smooth look:
A silly gallery displays a mix of doctored photos. Some are obviously seeded, while others appear to be real users:
A "Smooth Operator" quiz keeps the social fun going:
Mello Yello further engages users with photo caption contests:
French fashion house Louis Vuitton has long prided itself on giving customers the ability to personalize the brand's iconic bags. But with the "Mon Monogram" app, Louis Vuitton has taken that experience into the digital realm by giving customers the ability to create their own bags inside the friendly confines of Facebook.
The app itself is easy to use, and the straightforward choices make it almost impossible for users to go too far off course.
From the brand's perspective, the app works on three distinct levels. First, users can tinker as much as they like while dreaming up an endless array of bags and saving them to their own gallery. In the process, shoppers build a lasting emotional connection to the brand as they design an endless series of "wishlist" bags. Second, users can take the social shopping experience one step further by sharing, or gifting, their bags to friends. Lastly, the app can work as a direct sales tool, enabling shoppers to quickly and easily create and buy their customized bags. But above all, the real genius of the app is that it updates a 19th century brand by enhancing the brand's core value of customization.
A simple "personalizer" makes customizing your bag easy:
A gallery allows users to search for bags by stripe or color:
A gift section makes the shopping experience social:
"Save Our Season"
When a labor lockout threatened to cancel (or at least delay) the 2011-12 NFL season, Buffalo Wild Wings wasted no time jumping into the fray. The casual dining and sports bar franchise galvanized its Facebook audience around a simple concept -- save our season.
The resulting app simply asked users to "like" the "Save Our Season" tab on the brand's Facebook page. In exchange for lending their support, fans were promised six free wings if they joined the cause prior to July 20. While the app itself is painfully simple, it's a stellar example of how a brand can use Facebook to interject itself into a media story as it unfolds.
Thankfully, the NFL is going forward as planned (perhaps in some small measure to the fans of Buffalo Wild Wings). But no matter what could have happened with the NFL story, the brand came off as a big winner because it was able to demonstrate empathy with its customers and reinforce a key message -- that Buffalo Wild Wings are just as important to Sundays as football.
The brand uses a YouTube video to call attention to its petition:
Buffalo Wild Wings scores free media in the Huffington Post (shown here) and elsewhere with a simple stunt:
With the NFL season saved, Buffalo Wild Wings declares victory:
It's hard to see how a diehard fan can resist playing a part in a trailer for season four of HBO's hit vampire series, "True Blood." But even newcomers to the show will be impressed with the interactivity of the "Immortalize Yourself" app, which draws random names and photos from the user's Facebook profile and inserts them into a trailer for the show.
But to keep the app fresh, users also have the option of taking their seat in the director's chair. Using a simple five-step menu, users can pick friends for a variety of roles, deciding who among their social network is most likely to go missing, who's most likely to "do bad things," and which of their friends they haven't seen in a while.
Although the app is certainly designed for the show's most devoted fans, the decision to put the user in the director's chair gives HBO a chance to engage an audience that likely wouldn't notice other promotional initiatives at this point in the show's run. Of course, whether the Facebook users who are unwittingly cast in the trailer actually become viewers remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure: The app certainly offers excitement to fans of the show and puts them in a position to sing its praises.
A fan of the show shares a custom "True Blood" trailer on YouTube:
The app's trailer cuts away for numerous inserts, allowing Facebook users to make a cameo:
A simple menu lets you pick the cast of your very own trailer:
When your brand is meant to be the life of the party, your app needs to be the kind of thing that brings people together for a good time. And on that front, rum-maker Bacardi delivers with its "Bacardi Together " app.
Working in tandem with a social media campaign designed to bring concerts and other live summer events to the brand's Facebook community, the "Bacardi Together" app helps those fans make their own summer fun. The app leverages a user's Facebook data and activity to highlight intriguing party possibilities based on a user's top "likes," best friends, and most chatty friends.
In addition, there's a tool for helping users build their own rum-based cocktails to get the party going.
The "Top Likes" section of the app lets users organize their friends based on shared interests. Users can also filter the list to reflect location, education, or a number of other categories:
The "What's Shaking" section of the app helps users design their ultimate Bacardi cocktail:
When users create the perfect party mix, they can use the app to invite their Facebook friends for a real-life get together:
"Get Set in Style"
Visitors to the Smithsonian Institution's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York have probably all had the same fantasy while touring the Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry exhibit. That fantasy, of course, is to try on the jewelry.
Of course, actually doing it is a big no-no. Thankfully, the museum has used its "Get Set in Style" Facebook app to give users the next best thing -- a photo of themselves or their friends wearing the jewelry.
When users open the app, they see their photo album and menu of digitized jewelry pieces that include earrings, necklaces, and brooches. Users can quickly select the photo they want to use as well the jewelry they want to try on. A simple zoom tool helps ensure ideal placement. After the user places the jewelry, the app saves the photo to a jewelry box.
On the museum's Facebook page, users get an immediate offer: "bejewel" themselves or a friend:
Users have a wide selection of exquisite designs to try on:
The app spreads virally as users "gift" jewelry designs to their friends and, in the process, earn reward pins:
Michael Estrin is freelance writer. He contributes regularly to iMedia, BitterLawyer.com, and Bankrate.com. His work has appeared in Fast Company, Nerve.com, and on MSN and Yahoo.
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