'Hacking' Facebook Photos in the Name of Guerrilla Marketing

When 'Photos of Friends' Are Not What They Appear

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Sam Lessin
Sam Lessin
I am seeing a new "hack" on Facebook photos cropping up more and more frequently -- and I think it will soon be repurposed as an interesting marketing tool. Namely, people have begun to upload a photo of something they wish to promote (perhaps a candidate or event) and then "tag" the photo with the names of as many influential friends as they can. The tagged photo then shows up in the news feeds of the friends of those influentials as if the photo was of them. After people click on it they find out that, in fact, it is a message in support of some cause.

I can't remember the first time it happened, but what prompted this post was the most recent time it happened -- my girlfriend's name was tagged on an Obama victory poster.

To be clear, the key here is that the people that the cause promoter has "tagged" in the image are not actually in the image and have not actively lent their support to the message. Rather, the individual supporting the given cause is hijacking a friend's name to broadcast a message to the friends of their friend. Follow?

Sam Lessin is founder and CEO of Drop.io, a public/private file-sharing website. You can follow his exploits by subscribing to his own Drop.io feed.
This is a really terrific idea for someone looking to broadly push a message. If you tag 20 people into a given photo with something you are promoting you can easily reach thousands of people directly in their news feed with a big splashy image that appears highly relevant.

In Facebook, photos have several characteristics that make them especially fabulous marketing vehicles. First, people love them and tend to click on them all the time. Second, they get incredible real estate in news feed. Third, any message put into photos has a strange automatic relevance because it is attached to the name of a friend. Finally, there is a huge curiosity factor as to why a friend is tagged in an image. I am sure there are several other positives to this approach, but those are the ones that quickly come to mind.

The best thing one could do, which I have yet to see, would be to figure out some sort of marketing campaign that encourages people to take a branded message and tag their friends into it, thereby creating a viral campaign by tagging photos on Facebook.

Ultimately, photo tags are no different than any other sort of link. It is going to be interesting to watch people more deeply explore this concept, pushing things like Facebook photos far beyond its original intended purpose.

Of course, at the same time Facebook will likely look to deploy technology to try to control the channel. Part of the long-term challenge Facebook will likely face is finding a happy medium where people can derive economic value out of the platform (which Facebook can tax) while keeping the communication platform useful and streamlined. If Facebook succeeds the value is incredible, but if it fails the platform will become unusable.

For now, however, try it. Stop assuming that a photo of a friend need be a photo of that friend at all. Instead, consider a photo simply as a piece of content that you can pre-apply to people in your network to easily push a message to those within two degrees.
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