A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.
At this year's Web 2.0, Mary Meeker shared a staggering statistic: the number of people on social networks today exceeds the number of Internet users in 2006. Seventy percent of those individuals use Facebook. Never before has a brand had such rapid adoption, frequent engagement and deep trust. The Facebook phenomenon has executives scrambling to respond to questions from their CEOs and boards, namely "What's our social strategy? What are we doing with Facebook?"
And this scrambling has ignited a rush of activity. Facebook has seen a massive influx of advertising dollars ($3.8bn projected this year). Ad agencies have seen a major uptick in demand for Facebook campaigns, brand pages and apps. Companies have created community manager positions just to monitor and respond to Facebook activity. Consumers have been presented with a panoply of promotions, deals and special offers just for liking a brand on Facebook. But all of this activity begs the question: where are the results? CMOs can readily state the number of Facebook fans they have, and do a lot of hand waiving around "earned" or "shared" media. But are they really creating any business value or sustainable advantage? The answer for most businesses is categorically, no. Here's why:
- Most marketers approach Facebook purely as an advertising and engagement platform. The select few who are getting it right recognize and approach Facebook as a new business-building capability.
- Most execute programs only on Facebook.com. The select few who are getting it right also use Facebook off Facebook.com; using the open graph to develop relevant, compelling, personalized experiences on one's branded web properties.
- Most measure the media activity (reach and frequency, impressions, buzz, fan count) only. The select few who are getting it right also measure commerce activity (referral traffic from Facebook and the resulting conversion on one's site, customer acquisition).
What follows below are four examples of major brands using Facebook. When you evaluate their strategies, think through the three points above and ask this simple question: What relevant and compelling consumer problem does this address and how does it deliver benefit to the business?
The Amazon Facebook experience
Amazon, in addition to using Facebook as an advertising and engagement platform, has clearly approached Facebook as a net new business initiative by using the open graph on Amazon.com. If you haven't experienced Amazon's Facebook experience, try it now. Go to Amazon.com, click on your Amazon.com link above the search box, and use the Facebook Connect on the right-hand side of the page (image).
What you get is a personalized Amazon.com experience – your Facebook friends with upcoming birthdays (1), what's popular with them (2), and recommendations for music, movies, and books for you based on your profile data (3 and 4).
Consumers want personal, customized experiences. However, creating and delivering these experiences has been out of reach for all but the small mom and pops who know their customers by name. Instead of face-to-face relationships, the big players are forced to rely on data bases full of past transactions, clicks and data overlays. This approach fails because these metrics represent only a fraction of what is relevant to people, and don't reflect the real context of their lives.
Relevant information from your Facebook profile has been pulled into the shopping experience, enabling you to easily purchase a relevant product or a gift. Amazon's Facebook programming further solidifies its value to customers as a top retail brand, while driving real business results in the form of referral traffic and sales. (In Q4 2010 Amazon received 7.7% of it traffic from Facebook.)
The Step2 Facebook experience
Step2 has enhanced the social shopping experience on its site by giving consumers what they need to make a purchase decision, while using the open graph seamlessly both on their site and on Facebook.
According to a recent Social Shopping study from the e-tailing group, customer reviews are the No. 1 social tool in the buying process. Ninety percent or more of consumers want objective information from people like them about the products and services they are interesting in purchasing. Step2 takes their review experience to the next level with Facebook-enhanced reviewer profiles using the open graph. By allowing users to connect with Facebook when submitting a review, Step2 is able to offer richer, more relevant research experiences by blending their data (the review) with Facebook profile information on their own product pages.
Step2 also provides multiple hooks throughout its site experience that make it easy for customers to share their experiences and engage with Facebook friends. On the product page, they've got the Like button, and in the review submission process, Step2 gives reviewers the ability to easily share submitted content with their network or comment on other reviews using Facebook Connect, all with links back to Step2's product page.
Where Step2 gets really innovative is in making it possible for customers to interact with Facebook from their product page, beyond the traditional Share or Like. Consumers have the option to ask friends for advice, subscribe to new/trending products, future reviews, or contributions from a specific reviewer – all on Facebook.com. This is notable because it gives consumers the option to subscribe to and interact with individual pieces of content within the page versus Liking/Sharing the page itself. While all of this interaction happens on the product page, Step2 reaps the ongoing benefit on Facebook.com by being able to connect with a customer and their friends via the News Feed over time.
Consumers want objective, authentic reviews from people they can trust. Using Facebook, Step2 increases the relevance for consumers, while engendering trust in the authenticity of each review. The Like button shows you how many people have endorsed a product and whether they're in your network and you can ask your Facebook friends for advice. The reviewers' Facebook profile lets you know that a mom like you endorses this product. You can also subscribe to a reviewer's future contributions, all future reviews on a product, or new and trending products within a particular category. Finally, you can comment on this product or a review, stimulating the conversation with friends and further interaction on Facebook.com. All of this gives shoppers the confidence to click the "add to cart" button.
The TripAdvisor Facebook experience
Like Amazon and Step2, *TripAdvisor has used Facebook's open graph on its branded web property. Granting TripAdvisor access to your Facebook account via the open graph transforms the website into an ultra-personalized experience where consumers can plan their a vacation based on places their friends have been, reviewed, or plan to go.
Connecting with Facebook lets consumers see where their friends have traveled across the globe (on a map of the world, or by city).
Within a given city, consumers can see hotels and restaurants that their friends have reviewed. However, the most interesting innovation on TripAdvisor is based on Facebook's ability to Like or check in at a destination. Using data from Facebook's Like and Places feature, TripAdvisor shows consumers places that their friends have Liked or checked in at recently, and gives the option to read more about the destination, rate it, or add it to a "Want to go" hit list.
While most travel sites offer "Featured Vacations" or even "Top Destinations," but whose top destinations are they? Not people you know and trust, that share your interests and values, and a similar budget. Similar to the relevancy conundrum presented with our Amazon example, travel sites can't rely solely on their past purchase database of demographic information to present relevant travel recommendations to me. The best they can do is present "Top Destinations" based on where complete strangers have traveled.
TripAdvisor uses the open graph to merge the best of data collected on TripAdvisor.com (places you've reviewed, want to go, or have already been) with the best of Facebook interactions (Likes, Check-ins) to present a highly personalized experience that promotes engagement on TripAdvisor.com and keeps consumers coming back. TripAdvisor.com, rather than Facebook.com, is where the company is best equipped to convert consumers into paying customers when they see a hotel, rental, or destination endorsed by friends.
Louisville Slugger Facebook program
On the heels of the 2011 World Series, Louisville Slugger undertook a cross-platform social scavenger hunt that increased its Facebook buzz by 834% in a week. The brand's social media team dropped 45 World Series commemorative bats at spots around St. Louis (hometown of the series-winning Cardinals), then posted clues to Twitter and Facebook so fans could find them. Besides increasing brand-related chatter, the campaign helped increase the brand's Facebook "likes" by 143% and its Twitter following by 161%.
While certainly creative, this entire campaign gave us a flashback to the days when maximizing eyeballs was the primary measure of success. Sure, it generated Facebook and Twitter buzz, but what relevant and compelling value did it provide to consumers? And where was the long-term benefit to Louisville Slugger? Did it drive significant traffic to Louisville or its retailers' websites where customers could ultimately make a purchase? Highly doubtful. While it certainly generated a bit of short-term buzz around the manufacturer, there's not a compelling consumer problem solved that will create new customers or retain them over time.
Looking at media activity (or "buzz" numbers), this campaign was a success. Fan count and Facebook engagement are worth tracking and will likely prove to be valuable metrics one day. For the time being, the moral of the story is not for brands to ignore these metrics altogether, but to look at social campaigns holistically, tracking commerce metrics (traffic and sales) in addition to "earned" media numbers. From the outside looking in, the Louisville campaign was successful at driving fans and awareness, but the real metric of success is how these newly acquired fans have converted since.
Those who are getting it right are devoting a small share of resources to evaluate the ad and engagement performance and media value both in absolute terms and relative to other choices. They are, however, spending a much larger share of resources to testing, learning and implementing capabilities on-site via the open graph, a net new business-building capability to deliver real consumer value and advantage their business.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said that Travelocity, not TripAdvisor, has used Facebook's open graph on its branded web property.