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I still chuckle when I think about it. It was summer of 2005, and while on vacation, I made some new friends a few years younger than me. When it came time to say goodbye, they asked if I used a then still relatively new social networking site called Facebook. My response: “Isn’t that for college kids?” Launched in February 2004, The Facebook (yes, that was the original name) began its impressive rise from dorm-room fodder to the world’s largest social network (Facebook has an estimated 500 million users worldwide) when its Harvard founders opened the site’s virtual doors to collegians throughout the Boston-area, the Ivy League and at Stanford University. Global domination soon followed. Today, not only do I use Facebook to stay in touch with everyone from those friends to my mom’s friends and more, I’ve also completely abandoned other early social networking sites (R.I.P. Friendster and MySpace) in favor of The Social Network. That’s the title of the Aaron Sorkin-written, David Fincher-directed blockbuster that comes out Friday, a movie that has people — grown-ups — talking not just about the seemingly controversial birth of Facebook but also the importance and cultural relevance of the medium. Trying to have a conversation without using the word “Facebook” is like trying to avoid the Kardashian sisters in the tabloids. While we’ve talked about the opportunities for and potential pitfalls of professionals using social media, we’ve yet to discuss how smart brands and businesses are making the ultimate consumer network work for them. Several — from Dairy Queen to Delta Airlines, Oreo to Target, Sears to Wasa — are blazing trails online in creativity and convenience.
Maybe I’m just blogging out loud here, but it seems like brands and businesses simply using Facebook is not enough. Smart companies need to take their Facebook involvement one-step further and actively engage consumers in relevant and useful ways. And don’t forget to keep it fun.
According to new research from Atlanta-based social media marketing agency Vitrue, Facebook posts incorporating images, be they coupons or photos, engage more users than those using only text and/or video. The study claims “image posts earn 22 percent more engagement than video posts and 54 percent more than text-only posts, while video was 27 percent more engaging than text.” Moreover, posts made early in the day and on Wednesdays garner the most attention. Interactive games, giveaways and promotions also score big. A Vertical Marketing coworker recently shared the Wasa Facebook fan page, which features the endlessly entertaining “Create-a-Snack” interactive tool and other elements designed around the theme of “Snackspiration.” Equally engaging is Dairy Queen’s fan page, which has earned nearly 1.7 million fans with promotions for free Blizzards and more. And speaking of sweets, Oreo has outdone itself in Facebook promos, with over 10 million fans and more interactive “stuff” than the brand’s Double Stuf cookies. Taking a step toward more convenient airline travel, Delta Airlines began selling tickets via its Facebook page in August. But don’t let that stop you from entering KAYAK’s current giveaway, which gives users the chance to fly for free. The travel search engine and booking site’s pitch: “And you thought Facebook was only good for embarrassing photos.” Clearly, it’s not. It’s good for business, too. Target recently started selling Facebook gift cards, similar to iTunes gift cards, which can be spent on applications, social games and virtual goods associated with those games. Vertical Marketing Network had success in using Facebook as a cross promoting platform; as a tie-in with their James Hardie campaign, the agency drove traffic from the brand’s Facebook page to its YouTube channel and helped promote a related video contest. Retail giant Sears is currently running a similarly great video contest — clearly piggy-backing on the aforementioned release of The Social Network. Visitors to the company’s Facebook page are prompted: “What would you do with one billion points?” Unlike the “points” of pre-paid Facebook gift cards, the Sears points up for grabs are very real. The winner will receive 500 million points (sound familiar?), or $500,000, and another 500 million points will go to charity. Not a bad way to drum up fans…or business.
But perhaps the best business use of Facebook — and a great way for businesses to get involved on the network — comes from the company itself. In mid-August, Facebook launched its Places feature, a move to not only compete with other location-based social networking sites such as Foursquare and Gowalla, but to partner with them. Facebook’s Places platform has what’s called an application programming interface, or API for short, which allows users of sites such as Booyah, Foursquare, Gowalla, Twitter and Yelp to “check-in” and/or interact via Facebook. It’s a brilliant move on Facebook’s part, essentially making itself the “one-stop-shopping” site of social networking and online interaction. The fact that Facebook is engaging businesses to help is no surprise: “Places creates a presence for your business’s physical store locations…When your customer checks into your Place, these check-in stories can generate powerful, organic impressions in friends’ News Feeds, extending your brand’s reach to new customers.”
With more than 1 million Web sites integrated with the Facebook platform, including two-thirds of comScore’s U.S. Top 100 Web sites and half of comScore’s Global Top 100 Web sites, smart businesses should consider their place in this fast-growing social marketplace. Now that’s a conversation worth having.