A large and growing portion of some of the most valuable demographics are spending more of their time and attention on Facebook and less on other channels and media. Not only are US college students and teenagers fully engaged in Facebook, but adults, professionals, and people from around the world now constitute a substantial portion of the Facebook userbase as well.
However, most marketers lack a comprehensive understanding of the vast array of explicit and implicit marketing channels Facebook offers – most of which are viral. My goal here is to provide an introduction to what’s possible on Facebook to the spectrum of marketers from brand advertisers to volunteer grassroots evangelists.
Facebook offers many ways to get the word out and bring the people in. Here’s how to get started.
I. Tools for Guerrilla Marketers
For the aggressive guerrilla marketer, Facebook offers a bevy of viral channels to get the word out to your friends and creatively reach your target audience. The best part about these guerrilla tactics is their cost: $free. Everyone on Facebook can use these strategies to recruit and evangelize their causes.
1. Profile Page
The starting point for your presence on Facebook is your profile page. Your profile page is basically a landing page that you design in order to convert your friends to engage with certain parts of your identity.
Not only is your profile the page that you have the most control over, it’s the place where you can most deeply and authentically express your passion for the brand, company, or product you want to promote. Your profile page is an opportunity to craft a credible real-world story around the reasons your products or services are so valuable. Take advantage of Personal Info, Work Info, Photos, and applications to tell bits and pieces of your narrative as it relates to your brand. If you’re not buying your own stuff, why should anyone else?
If you don’t want to associate your personal identity with the product or service you’re trying to promote, Facebook is not for you. Inherent in the current state of Facebook is a culture of transparency that devalues and ignores inauthenticity. If you’re afraid to show the real people behind your campaign, that’s okay–but save your time and money and go somewhere beside Facebook.
Finally, most people don’t realize how many page views profile pages generate. One of the most common habits of Facebook users is browsing the profile pages of friends and stalking the profile pages of people they want to learn more about. By connecting to hundreds of parters, customers, associates, and friends on Facebook, you’ll drive a TON of traffic to your profile page. Take advantage of that huge opportunity.
2. Facebook Groups
Groups are oldest and simplest way to build community around your brand or company on Facebook. By starting a group, you create a central place for customers, partners, and friends to participate in conversations around your brand. Facebook groups come with boards for posting discussion topics, photos, videos, and links right out of the box. You can also easily send news and updates to your group members as often as you like – messages arrive in their Facebook Inbox. And the best part about Groups is you can create as many as you like for free.
Groups are one of the simplest ways to do viral marketing on Facebook. Once members have joined your group, they can easily invite their friends to join the group via a built-in Invite feature. If your members are excited about your group, it can grow really quickly. (1,000,000 Strong for Stephen Colbert grew from zero to one million members in 9 days!) Additionally, your group name will usually appear on your members’ personal profile pages until they leave the group. Many people view groups as “Bumper Stickers” for their profile page in this regard. Because profile pages are highly trafficked, these links can generate a lot of clicks to your group page.
Of course, groups do have their problems. First and foremost, Facebook removes your ability to blast messages to your group once it surpasses a certain size. While Facebook is working on removing this limit, group owners are still currently experiencing this restriction at 1000-1500 members. Second, if your group becomes popular, it can become a target for spammers. If you want to keep your group clean, be prepared to spend time deleting spam wall posts and reporting users that spam your group to Facebook. This can take a lot of time. Finally, while Groups do offer a reasonably robust feature set with no setup, you’re not able to extend their functionality with Facebook applications. In order to use those, you’ll need to get a Facebook Page.
3. Facebook Pages
- Pages are more customizable than groups. You can add HTML, Flash, or even Facebook applications to your pages to extend their functionality and the depth of experience users can have with your brand.
- Pages get more prominent “Bumper Stickers” real estate than groups on the profile pages of your fans.
- There is no limitation to the number of fans in your group that you can message.
- “Fans” who join your group are NOT able to invite their friends to be fans of your Page. Fans must either “Share” your page with their friends, or their friends must observe that they “are a fan” of your Page either via their profile page or News Feed.
- Facebook has taken an active role in cracking down on Pages not created by authorized agents.
Pages are a good option for small or local businesses that want to establish a presence on Facebook. Like groups, they’re another free and easy way to do viral marketing.
4. Facebook Events
When you create an event, it gets a fully-featured page, much like a group, that includes a wall, discussion, photos, videos, and links. You can invite all of your friends to the event; friends you invite will receive a special notification requesting their RSVP. You can also add admins to the event, who can also invite all of their friends.
Facebook Events makes it easy to get the word out to hundreds of people, manage your guest list, and build community around your upcoming event.
5. Facebook Notes and Photos
Notes and Photos are two Facebook applications that allow you to share blog posts and pictures with your friends. You can use these features to post content about your brand, but be careful to always do it authentically – don’t be spammy. If your photo albums are all company logos, for example, you’ll lose a lot of credibility.
One feature that often goes overlooked within Facebook Notes and Photos is “tagging.” When you publish a note or post a photo, Facebook allows you to “tag” that note or photo with the names of your friends who are “included” in it. When you “tag” a friend in your photo or note, he/she gets a special notification. However, you don’t have to use “tagging” only to tag people that are actually “included” in the note or photo–you can also use it to selectively choose certain people whose attention you want to bring to the content you’ve created. When they view your note or photo, they’ll see the other people you tagged in it – so make sure it’s a group of people they’d be complimented to be included in.
6. Facebook Messages
Messages are like email, except a lot less fully featured – Facebook offers no way to search, sort, filter, categorize, or star messages. While Facebook’s default privacy settings prevent you from seeing the full profile page of most Facebook users, Facebook allows you to send messages to users you have no connection with.
However, Facebook has invested heavily in message spam prevention. If you use your Facebook account to message users you have no connection with in high volume, Facebook’s automated systems will shut down your account. While they do offer a direct line to a hard to find sales lead or potential job candidate, it is not smart to try to spam people using Facebook messages.
7. Facebook Marketplace
Marketplace is Facebook’s classifieds listing service. You can post a for-sale ad or wanted ad in any of your networks for free. However, if you want to post your ad in multiple networks, you have to pay $1 per network per listing.
Like with messages, spamming up the Marketplace will get your account deleted and your ads removed. It’s most likely not worth your time to try to evade their systems.
Unlike other Facebook-developed applications, Marketplace does not get heavily used by most members. My Marketplace ads have only yielded a few leads. However, unlike Craigslist, which is anonymous, all Marketplace responses are tied to real Facebook accounts. When you receive a response to your Marketplace listing, you can see the respondent’s profile page even if they’re not your friend.
8. Facebook Share / Posted Items
Facebook Share is a Facebook application that lets you promote any Group, Event, Photo, Link, or Application you come across by a) giving it real estate in your “Posted Items” list on your profile page, or b) sending it directly to your friends’ Inbox.
By posting it on your profile page, you can direct some clicks to the shared item. However, while this is an effective promotional tactic, it’s not as targeted as sending it directly to friends’ Inboxes. Those messages are more likely to convert into valuable clicks.
9. Facebook Networks
Facebook Networks are like group pages for everyone who’s a member of an Educational, Work, or Geographical network. While no Facebook members “own” any pieces of network pages, network pages offer 1) another way for users to discover events, posted items, and marketplace listings, and 2) discussion forums and walls which any members can post to.
Network pages are probably the most commonly accepted places to spam in Facebook. While you can post there, keep in mind that your messages may be considered spammy even if they’re real and relevant.
10. Mini Feed and News Feed
While all the channels I’ve described above are useful for grassroots marketing on Facebook, the wind that blows your marketing seeds is Facebook’s News Feed. While you’re not able to publish directly to the feeds (unless you’re willing to pay or build an application), Facebook’s Mini Feed and News Feed archive your users’ engagement with your brand and syndicate it to their friends, networks, and beyond, amplifying the reach of your campaign by orders of magnitude.
When Facebook users join your group, RSVP to your event, become fans of your page, share your photos, or further engage with your brand in any of these channels, Facebook automatically adds a feed item to their Mini Feed. That feed item exists for all to see, and is often in a prominent location on Facebook profile pages. Facebook’s News Feed, which occupies most of the login landing page, then amalgamates each user’s friends’ Mini Feeds into one unified stream of “recent news”. It’s possible that one Mini Feed item generated by a Facebook user could be seen in hundreds of their friends’ News Feeds.
The News Feed has revolutionized the way information is shared between friends on Facebook. This can mean great things for your campaign and your brand.
II. Tools for Advertisers
For marketers with a budget, Facebook offers both integrated and self-serve solutions to reach broader slices of the Facebook audience. Depending on your budget, you can get started as an advertiser on Facebook with as little as a few dollars for a short-run flyer or as much as several hundred thousand dollars for a customized “sponsored group” destination inside Facebook.
11. Social Ads
Social Ads replaced Facebook Flyers in November 2007 at the same time Facebook launched Pages. With Social Ads, Facebook offers advertisers the option to pay on a CPC or CPM basis, whichever they prefer. Social Ads offers very powerful targeting capabilities: when you create your ad, you have the option to limit who sees your ad by age, sex, location, keywords, education level, workplaces, political views, and relationship status.
Social Ads is completely self-serve and provides real time feedback on the size of your target audience and the suggested bid range to achieve impressions. While Facebook doesn’t guarantee your budget will be reached, I can’t imagine they’re anywhere close to filling their inventory.
Social Ads also offers placements in the News Feed which get much better click through. You can also target Social Ads to friends of users who have recently engaged with your brand via your Facebook Page or Facebook Beacon (for more details on Beacon, see below). These units convert at a much better rate.
12. Integrated Opportunities
If you represent a large account, Facebook has partnered with Microsoft to serve advertisers with higher campaign budgets (above around $50,000). Just contact Facebook, and a sales rep will work with you to explore more integrated advertising opportunities than are available via the self-serve Social Ads service.
Beacon is Facebook’s new program (launched in November 2007) that allows partners to send Facebook information about the activities Facebook users do on partner websites, in order to be published inside Facebook via the Mini Feed and News Feed. For example, Amazon might use Beacon to send a feed item to Facebook about a book you just bought.
Initially, Beacon launched as an opt-out program that required users to explicitly prevent their Beacon feed items from being distributed to their friends on Facebook. However, after complaints by privacy advocates, Facebook modified Beacon to become an opt-in program. While the potential for Beacon to increase the flow of information valuable to marketers within Facebook is tremendous, it largely remains untested.
Polls offer an easy way for marketers to quickly conduct research within their targeted audience. Results are streamed in real time to a dashboard that allows marketers to break down results by gender and age. Based on your targeting preferences, you can get hundreds of responses within an hour.
15. Facebook Platform Ad Networks
When Facebook launched the Facebook Platform in May 2007, they also made a promise to allow application developers to monetize their applications however they like and keep 100% of the revenue. This market green-field led to the birth of a new niche of ad networks dedicated to serving the inventory created by Facebook Platform applications.
While the quality of these networks can be inconsistent, together they offer an important way to reach the Facebook audience often engaged in a particular vertical. Inventory is sold on a CPM, CPC, CPA, and CPI (cost per installation of YOUR application) basis. Leading firms include SocialMedia (disclosure: SocialMedia is a sponsor of this blog), RockYou, Lookery, and others.
16. Facebook Platform Application Sponsorships
Advertisers looking for more integrated opportunities inside Facebook applications can consider approaching application developers and negotiating a sponsorship directly. For example, beverage companies have sponsored “drink-sharing” applications, while contact lens companies have sponsored “winking” applications.
17. Sponsored Facebook Groups
Before Facebook Pages launched, the only option available to advertisers wanting to establish a certified presence on Facebook was through the Sponsored Group program. Sponsored Groups are Facebook Groups with the ability to customize the HTML of certain regions on the page.
Surprisingly, the cost to rent a Sponsored Group on Facebook starts at US $100,000 a month. Not surprisingly, the number of Sponsored Groups purchased over the years has remained small. I expect Facebook to phase out Sponsored Groups as they seek to bolster Social Ads and Pages.
III. Tools for Application Developers
For marketers who can harness technical resources, the Facebook Platform offers the most powerful way to create engaging connections with your target audience on Facebook. Thousands of third-party applications have already been built on the Platform APIs–many of which have allowed for new kinds of deep brand experiences, and many of which turned out to be transient ad delivery vehicles that failed to take user experience into account. While I can’t tell you how to dream up a good app for your business here, I will explain the channels that your applications must absolutely take advantage of in order to achieve maximum success.
18. Profile Box
Surprisingly, the most common way new users find applications is through application profile boxes on their friends’ profile pages. The challenge of profile box design is making it both compelling for an existing user to keep it on his/her profile, and appealing enough to a new user to click on and install the application. If your profile box doesn’t provide the profile owner sufficient value to merit its presence on the profile page, your user will hide your profile box, or worse, uninstall your application. Simultaneously, if your profile box is too spammy, your user will get rid of it instantly.
19. Mini Feed
The Mini Feed is a powerful part of the Facebook Platform API that allows developers to publish news about a user’s engagement with their applications. Like the profile box, your feed items must be compelling to the profile owner while not being spammy, AND attract your user’s friends to click on the feed item and explore the app. If you mess up in either direction, users will hide your feed item, and thanks to a recent new feature from Facebook, uninstall it in-line.
20. News Feed
As I mentioned earlier, the Facebook News Feed offers immense value by syndicating your feed items to thousands of users’ home pages inside Facebook. In a previous post, I examined some of the tactics application developers can employ to optimize their feed items for News Feed performance.
Recently, Facebook enabled a new way of increasing the selection frequency and distribution breadth of feed items called Feed Templates. By registering feed templates in your Developer Settings, your feed items can now be a) lumped together and shown more often, and b) shown to friends of your app’s users who don’t have the app installed (previously, only friends who had the app could see your app’s feed items in their News Feeds).
Testing, tracking, and optimizing your feed items is a worthwhile investment for any application developer.
One of the most powerful viral channels available to Facebook Platform application developers is invitations. The invitations API allows users of your application to invite up to 20 of their friends per day to install your app. When maximized, invitations can lead to very quick growth.
However, encouraging your users to invite their friends to install your application is not as easy as you think. The scenario must be compelling enough for your users to send invitations on your behalf, and the invitation itself must be compelling enough for the recipient to convert.
22. Facebook Notifications
Notifications get less press than feed items and invitations because they’re not as effective at spreading your app. Because Facebook mysteriously assigns your apps a spamminess rating based on the number of notifications your apps send out, many developers choose to use notifications sparingly to prevent having their notification channel shut down by Facebook. However, notifications have been proven to be an effective tool for retaining existing users of your app.
23. Email Notifications
Email notifications are just like Facebook Notifications, except they are delivered directly to your users’ email address INSTEAD of to their Facebook Notifications inbox. While originally scheduled to be deprecated by Facebook, Facebook recently enabled a new API method for email notifications that allows developers to send users up to 5 email notifications per day.
24. Application Directory
Although hard to find, a surprising number of application installations come directly from the Application Directory. When submitting your application for inclusion in the directory, be sure to create compelling art and copy for the listing, as well as your application’s About page. Doing this up front will create a meaningful difference in the number of users that add your application from the directory in the long run!
Never before has a social platform emerged that combines the authenticity of Facebook’s culture with the raw power of Facebook’s multitude of viral channels to offer such an unprecedented marketing opportunity.
While some remain pessimistic about the potential of social networks to become viable direct marketing channels, I believe that direct marketers who craft intelligent strategies for the Facebook environment–which will require much more creativity than SEM campaigns–will find success. At the same time, Facebook offers brand marketers entirely new paradigms for designing immersive and persuasive brand experiences.
At the same time, we are still early in the game, and we have a lot left to learn. Only when marketers learn how to capture new kinds of value available for the first time ever inside Facebook will the markets realize just how valuable Facebook is.