Earlier today, Rohit Bhargava blogged about marketing through Facebook Groups, highlighting eight organizations (some corporations, some causes and even a grassroots effort or two) that are using Facebook to assemble and stay connected to a network of brand advocates. If you're not a Facebook convert, company-sponsored groups occupy roughly the same headspace as branded MySpace profiles -- they are a mechanism for marketers to build a network within the network, amass friends and (if they're using the group properly -- many aren't) maintain open lines of communication with their self-identified community members.
Facebook Groups, by their very nature, are opt-in and uninterruptive, so they're far more consumer-friendly than the display ads plastered across the site's pages. My problem with Groups, though, is that they still demand that people who are interested in interacting with a brand go to the brand's space (over and over again, so long as they want to stay on top of updates.) Instead, why not find ways to entice consumers to embed your brand directly into their own profiles and provide you with a truly organic means of achieving peer-to-peer distribution of your messages? Why not create something portable and valuable -- something that provides consumers with utility, gives them a way to express themselves or connect with others -- something that they'll want to show off or share with their friends?
With this in mind, I spent some time poking around Facebook, looking for some examples of how brands can better integrate into the individual consumer's experience and tap into the community members themselves for free, organic distribution of brand-relevant messages.
Here are a couple of interesting things I found...
When Facebook opened their API and invited everyone to build applications for their social networking platform (applications are just distributable bits of content or functionality -- essentially, widgets written specifically for Facebook), plenty of marketers added "Facebook App" to their emerging media checklists. Alas, it is months later and I've still seen relatively few brand sponsored applications. In fact, I polled my Facebook friends a few weeks ago to see if they had any favorite brand applications and none of them had seen any either. Recently though, I came across a TripAdvisor-sponsored "Cities I've Visited" map (on a friend's profile, by the way, which is the point exactly.) There are several such mapping applications available for Facebook users -- you embed the app to let people know where you've traveled and/or where you'd like to go in the future -- and they seem to be a pretty popular bit of profile-dressing, but the TripAdvisor version shows how a marketer can offer a piece of functionality that both supports the brand's unique value proposition (TripAdvisor is about great travel experiences) and provides community members with something (content, functionality or, as in this case, content and functionality) that they will willingly (even proudly) share with their friends.
Facebook allows friends to give one another electronic "gifts" -- small icons of affection ranging from food and drinks to animals and clothing, each of which costs the sender $1 and then adorns the recipient's profile page (not sure I get the point, but maybe I'm just getting old.) Anyway, today I noticed what I believe is the first branded gift -- a Wal-Mart sponsored ghost, available in a 300,000 piece "limited edition," that can be gifted at no charge. The ghost bears Wal-Mart branding and is billed as a great way to "scare up some fun this Halloween," but is really a marketing tactic designed to scare up some traffic for the mega-discounter's Halloween decorations microsite. As I write this post, the Wal-Mart ghost is one of only two available freebies, gets a plug right at the top of the Facebook Gift Shop page, and is the network's #1 bestseller. Wal-Mart's ghost may not deliver utility in the same way that the TripAdvisor travel map does, but it does tap into the community's organic behavior and provides members with another reason (and way) to connect with one another.
I realize that neither of these examples is particularly sophisticated, but I do sense that they are a step in the right direction. I also suspect that brands are doing plenty of other interesting things inside Facebook.
What Facebook marketing programs have you found? What would you like to see more of? What would you like to see less of? Chime in.