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10 Facebook lessons from Apple vs. Google

10 Facebook lessons from Apple vs. Google David Clarke

About a year ago, my agency was debating whether to make the shift from BlackBerrys to either iPhones or Androids. To settle the issue, we decided to implement a Facebook effort to acquire first-hand consumer opinions. BGT's latest endeavor -- an Apple vs. Google fan page -- was born. Equipped with eager interns and a pitiful media spend, we launched the ApplevsGoogle Facebook page in January 2010. One year and more than 55,000 "likes" later, we received the feedback we needed, learned a great deal about social behavior, and chose our phone.

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While it's exciting that in a year we received more than 55,000 "likes," what's most remarkable is the high level of engagement of the fans. The page has really taken on a life of its own that is completely independent of our coordination. The brand loyalty for both Apple and Google is so tremendous that it's almost as if the fans are waiting eagerly for us to post so they can "like," comment, and interact. Facebook is an incredible medium for stirring the fires of fan engagement, and it's all about quality over quantity.

In this article, I'll lay out the 10 lessons we've learned for creating a successful social initiative on Facebook. It doesn't matter if you're operating a Fortune 500 site or running your bingo hall's community page; these tips will help you build a better relationship with your fans through more meaningful engagements.

Focus on your demographics
Always keep your demographic in mind when determining your subject matter. As authors of the ApplevsGoogle page, the topics we could focus on are endless. But the truth is, we have discarded myriad compelling subjects simply because our audience would not be interested.

Over time, we have come to know and understand our audience, which is imperative to keeping members involved. Our fans gravitate toward posts that discuss the latest technology and cutting-edge tools. For example, anything we posted on the iPad was a hit. See how many comments this simple post generated.

Write it right
You can express the same message multiple ways using different tones and verbiage. Make sure your site's writing speaks to your fans. The ApplevsGoogle page has a young audience, with 60 percent of our users falling between the ages of 13-17 and 24 percent between the ages of 18-24. Because of our demographics, we tend to write posts in an audacious tone. This works great for us but would be far from appropriate for many corporate Facebook sites.

Timing is everything
Posting at the right time is critical for success. With the abundance of information online, people have plenty of site choices. Give them ammo to visit your site by making it timely and relevant, encouraging fans to continue to engage with your page.

Here's an example from our page, reflecting an error with the iPhone. A glitch arose, and we beat the media to the punch, while the issue was fresh in consumers' minds:

Anticipate questions
Although this might sound difficult, the truth is that if you have a solid understanding of your audience and subject matter, you should be able to predict upcoming questions or issues. Anticipating questions and addressing them will position your company as being both informed and involved.

An easy way to stay ahead of the curve is by following the latest industry news and posting relevant stories. We strive to find breaking news and articles that relate to our audience's interests. We share everything with our fans, and they are happy to continually engage with us as a result:

Diffuse a ticking time bomb
All pages have their haters and antagonists, and it's important to diffuse any adverse situations as soon as they arise. I don't recommend removing everyone who goes against the grain, as controversy is good for initiating conversation. As you become more involved in your page, you'll become familiar with the behaviors of your fans and learn how to handle them. If someone is blatantly out to ruin your page or company reputation, remove them immediately. You'll feel instant gratification with the click of a button.

On our page, we had an outwardly offensive and vulgar fan that we had to remove. We encourage debates on our page, but we have zero tolerance for disrespect of other fans. Plus, I think someone needed to remind this person that this is an Apple vs. Google fan page -- not the streets of New York:

Take your audience's temperature
Once you have grown your "likes," test out how active and involved your audience truly is on the site. An easy way to do this is by rolling out a contest. Hands down, it is the simplest -- and often most inexpensive -- way to interact with your fans, share your comments, and build your audience. Here's the trick: Always tie a question in with the contest. Ask fans for their opinions on a topic or have them vote on a particular issue. The comments you receive will teach you about your audience members, their interests, and how they like to communicate.

On our ApplevsGoogle page, we asked our fans the obvious question: Apple or Google? Our fans not only told us which company they prefer, but more importantly, why they chose one over the other. Sure, some comments were structured in a manner that resembles how Donald Trump might speak about his good friend Rosie O'Donnell, but for the most part, these comments provided insight into what our fans truly value:

Change the pace by diversifying topics
Posting topics according to a calendar is good in theory, but that strategy can work against you. Following a schedule causes you to lose sight of newsworthy topics that people are excited to discuss. In addition to creating conversations, your site should also be part of the conversation. Don't miss out on an opportunity because it wasn't "penciled in."

We know our fans love talking about their phones, so we jumped at the opportunity to discuss the new Window's smartphone. Although it was not directly related to Apple or Google, we felt we could get our fans involved, and we wanted to hear their opinions. This post was successful and received a higher-than-average response:

Don't be afraid to advertise
Don't be afraid to advertise; if done correctly, it can yield positive results. Be sure to tailor your ads to the targeted demographics. We are currently running several ads and have garnered an impressive number of fans as a result. In less than five months, we picked up 9,302 fans directly from these ads. You can't ignore the numbers.

Below are the most effective ads we ran for the ApplevsGoogle campaign:

Speculate and instigate
If your company page is not regulated by an iron-clad legal team, create a conversation through speculation. Sure, speculation is a form of instigation, but what better way to get to know your audience and where it stands on issues? Get people talking and allow them to have the conversation on your page.

The below post turned out to be one our most instigative since it received 2.5 times more comments than average, and nearly twice the "likes." Why? Because we were speculating on the future of Facebook:

Ask a question if you want an answer
The simple fact is that questions encourage interaction. If your site focuses on posting statements all the time, you're missing out on many opportunities for fans to engage with you. And Facebook users want to give their opinions just as much as your mother-in-law does.

Excluding our contests, the three ApplevsGoogle posts that generated the most comments all ask our fans a question about a relevant topic. It's as if they were just waiting to be asked.

From a marketer's point of view, the fewer restrictions placed on social efforts, the more opportunity you have for creativity. And it's amazing what can be accomplished quickly and cost effectively. Our no-holds-barred ApplevsGoogle fan page served as a social experiment for us and proved invaluable for collecting relevant user insights. The lessons learned have been used to support various internal and client initiatives, and in the end, it's been a lot of fun.

Incidentally, although it has no bearing on the lessons described in this article, the agency selected the iPhone 4 for the staff.

David Clarke is co-founder and managing partner of BGT Partners.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

David is the PwC Chief Experience Officer(CXO), a Principal in Digital Services and the Leader of the Experience Center. David combines the best of agency and consultancy to create ideal experiences that transform our world. Since 1996, David has...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Nick Stamoulis

2011, April 19

You have to know who your audience is if you want to get the most out of any social networking site. First off, your target audience might not even be using that site. Secondly, the way you communicate with your audience ties directly into their demographics. Failing to understand who they are means you can't effectively talk to them.

Commenter: Andrew Dixon

2011, April 18

Very insightful and useful article. A great read.

Commenter: Brett Sherman

2011, April 18

Great article Dave.