Mike Murphy, VP-media sales at Facebook, told the 800 attendees at this year's American Association of Advertising Agencies' account planning conference that when it comes to social-networking sites, there's a new ROI: return on involvement, not return on investment.
'Great idea wins'
On Facebook, as in all social-network marketing, a "great idea wins," he said. Site users realize they may have to see ads to keep the service free, but they don't like bad ads, and Facebook prefers its members think of the ads as beneficial rather than as a price that must be paid.
Instead of providing a web address or an toll-free number on its back-to-school catalog, Target listed its Facebook group on the last page as a meeting point to show off its merchandise for students. In a similar promotion, Wal-Mart's Facebook members are offered a style quiz and then sent recommended Wal-Mart products.
Mr. Murphy said a Crest teeth-whitening strip promotion, Smile State, targeted universities near the largest Wal-Marts nationwide. Students on a discussion board and wall posts indicated felt teeth-whitening was a painful process, so Crest changed its packaging, Mr. Murphy said. The college that came up with the biggest Facebook community for Crest won movie screenings and concerts.
"Don't scream from the sidelines, be inclusive," he advised. The model that works in social media, he said is to create involvement, find passionate consumers, build a trusted referral network, go viral and discover. "Always build in a reason to share because that's what they do here," he added. "It becomes huge for you."
Facebook newsfeeds, or information about things friends are doing, spread virally from friend to friend and offer marketers great potential, Mr. Murphy said. In the case with Crest, the interaction rate on trusted referrals from friends had an interaction rate 18% higher than from the ad that came directly from the marketer.
There's also the opportunity for a daily dialogue with consumers, he noted. The majority of Facebook users visit the site at least once a day, offering marketers an opportunity to keep their customers close.
Facebook, with 30 million young users, also has information on brand affinity available for marketers to leverage. For example, 616,000 Facebook users have Apple in their profile. Victoria's Secret's Pink line is second with 403,211, followed by McDonald's with 183,000, Red Bull with 65,000, Mercedes with 27,000 and Levi's with 17,000.
Hold your breath
But then comes the hold-your-breath part. One planner asked Mr. Murphy how to sell the idea of social networks to marketers. In a number of cases brand postings on Facebook and other social networks have drawn some pushback. A Starbucks Earth Day message was quickly blasted by community members who thought the marketer was hypocritical, as trees are cut to make paper cups. "We normally recommend keeping the content up," Mr. Murphy said, noting that in Starbucks' case, almost two dozen advocates for the brand came to its aid.
However, Mr. Murphy added, given the passion today's youth has for causes, "I don't recommend that any brand tries to become something they're not."