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Facebook Pages, Take Two

April 22, 2011

Did you see the report wherein Forrester Research concluded that Facebook is a bad platform for brand building? (WSJ has a good synopsis here, and Gawker has a good headline here).  The Forrester study found that companies weren’t reporting much benefit from their Facebook campaigns, and that “offering promotions in exchange for people to ‘like’ their page were ineffective because most people ‘liked’ companies just for a discount.”

I’d posit that the survey points to dissatisfaction with Facebook tactics, rather than dissatisfaction with the Facebook platform. Users love Facebook, and the social graph that Mark Zuckerberg created is built for rapid influencer amplification. Perhaps marketers just aren’t using it in the right way.

The coverage of the Forrester report looks at Facebook’s efficacy as a brand-building platform, but that’s not really what Facebook is about, even though we try to use it that way. Take The New Yorker’s promotion last week, for example. Anyone who “Liked” The New Yorker’s Facebook page got free access to an excellent Jonathan Franzen essay.

But here’s the thing: The Franzen essay appeared concurrently in last week’s print issue. So all those people “Liking” The New Yorker probably weren’t subscribers—they didn’t necessarily “like” The New Yorker. The program was deemed a success, in that the page got 166K new fans, but how many of those will last? Engagement is still relatively low on the page, given the number of Likes it has.

We’ve seen Facebook campaigns like this in the past, and while some of them might succeed, I don’t think they’re the best use of Facebook (and neither does Forrester). Instead of using the platform to win people over with deals and discounts, why not take a page from fan clubs and use our Facebook pages to engage brand advocates? In other words, try to collect “Likes” from people who really do “Like” your brand, and trust them to spread the word.

Fan clubs have been around for decades, and they succeed in whipping fans into a frenzy by offering them niche, highly valued brand experiences that aren’t available elsewhere. A rock band might offer unreleased tracks to the fan club, or early access to concert tickets. A football team hosts a barbecue with the cheerleading squad, but only premium season ticket holders are invited. The point is that whatever you offer is going to be spam to almost everyone, and gold to a select few. So find the content that will pull in that select few, and their friends will notice.

To go back to The New Yorker example, instead of offering something online that subscribers already get, offer something valuable that will be more likely to appeal to your fan base. Here are all the cartoons that ended up on the cutting room floor last week; here are the 10 WORST entries for the caption contest; here’s an exclusive track from the guitar player that Sasha Frere-Jones profiled in the most recent issue.

This changes the Facebook model somewhat. The current strategies tend to revolve around getting as many “Likes” as you can get, so you can push content out to the News Feeds of a huge number of Facebook users. Instead, I’m recommending going after a much smaller number of genuine fans. When you post content, those fans will be more likely to comment on it and “Like” it.

The difference between the two models is that in the first one, content is being distributed under your brand’s name to people who don’t necessarily care about it; in the second, it’s being distributed under your fans’ names to people who care about them. You’re trading reach for real community, so you can use that real community to increase your reach.

See the difference?

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