Getting the Most From Facebook Apps

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A pal of mine recently said he’s ditching Facebook because “it’s nothing but a continuous stream of annoying apps begging to be forwarded to friends.” Interestingly, he said this just as industry reports are recommending marketers use Facebook to reach the social community’s 80 million members. Isn’t that always the way it goes? Just as the mainstream media starts touting a specific marketing channel, it becomes so saturated that consumers grow weary of it.

That said, Facebook is still a viable marketing channel; but I’d advise you to get creative with it. It’s not enough to have a page for your brand anymore (yawn). It’s not even enough to create branded flair, pokes or gifts; although when done right, they can still be valuable. Today, it’s all about the applications, which are growing increasingly complex. For example:

Warner Bros. released a Facebook app-game enabling users to give their photos a batman-style hue to promote The Dark Knight.

The upcoming Paramount/Ben Stiller comedy, Tropic Thunder worked with Techlightenment to design a shoot-em-up app-game that taps the film’s mock-heroics as players are rewarded for overly dramatic acting. (hilarious!)

For Juno – a movie where the plot centers on an unplanned pregnancy – Fox Entertainment created an app that allowed users to send virtual pregnancy tests. In the three weeks of the campaign, Facebook users sent more than three million virtual tests, according to Fox.

And, it’s not just entertainment brands that are connecting through these apps. The Washington Post, Red Bull, Blockbuster, Hallmark, Verizon, TripAdvisor and The Gap have all taken advantage of Facebook apps.

In fact, the Coca-Cola Company has created CokeTags, which appear to be a refreshing (pun intended) app that is much less in your face than some of the usual pokes and super pokes. In essence it’s a personal widget for packaging and sharing links to content across the Web that is quite subtly branded – a novelty on Facebook these days.

It seems this is just the beginning. A recent report by Forrester found that total spend on interactive marketing is set to increase from $18 billion to $61 billion by 2012. Of the $61 billion, by far the largest chunk will be spent on search and online display advertisements, which between them will account for $40 billion. And, social media apps are expected to grow from $1 billion to $11 billion in that period.

Many are skeptical about the earnings potential within Facebook. When Microsoft bought a $240 million stake that led to the site being valued at $15 billion, the Wall Street Journal said that Facebook was like a “lemonade stand” in comparison with Google.

So, why all the fuss? Well, despite my friend’s frustration, Facebook apps do work. The Times reported click-through rates on advertisements that are part of a game are around 20 times higher than the 0.05 success rate of traditional banner advertisements at one percent. Similarly campaigns on social networking sites like Facebook can be tracked more easily allowing marketers to deliver that ever-elusive ROI.

So, for the moment, at least, Facebook does seem to be the place reach consumers through clever apps. But, beware of over-saturation and be mindful of your overall strategy. My advice:

— Seek out partnerships within Facebook for co-branded opportunities.

— Know what is already out there; don’t create a new version of something that already has a draw.

— Be consistent with how people use Facebook. It has to have a viral feeling to it; something people will want to pass along. Whether it’s a poke, a game or a trivia survey, don’t forget the social part. (A great example would be the surveys around movies or books where you can compare your tastes with friends; those are designed to be shared).

And, as always, consider your overall campaign. As is true with any tactic, don’t one-off it. Make sure it fits with the total brand strategy and you just might make that connection that delivers millions of fans.

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