As creative director of an interactive ad agency I have a lot of clients come to me requesting a social strategy. After doing a lot of research and planning, and many hours burned, what I usually come to discover is that the client truly wanted nothing more than a mere presence on Facebook.
Often times major brands tend to equate Facebook to a social strategy. And why wouldn't they? Both Wall Street and the mainstream media are infatuated with the social networking site. And as it recently surpassed the 500MM user mark it is a safe bet that this is where a brand's audience is hanging out online. The real challenge is not to decide if one should be on Facebook but how to find the advocates and engage them properly.
The sad case is that many major brands fall short when it comes to engineering a true Facebook strategy. I have had many conversations with my colleagues in our Participant Intelligence and media departments, and we all can agree that a Facebook strategy is much more than simply offering a weakly branded Facebook application where you pick your 5 favorite ice cream flavors. It's about creating awareness of one's brand, interaction with one's brand and then evangelism of one's brand. It's about creating a connection, a bond, and then forging that bond with information and content. It's about sharing, listening, and then sharing some more. It is a dialogue, not a monologue.
Lots of big brands take pride with the numbers of "likes" they have on their Facebook page. Many brands engage advertising or creative agencies for the sole purpose of increasing their fan base on Facebook. The question is, once a brand reaches the desired milestone of ten thousand, one hundred thousand, or even 1MM fans... then what? What are they truly aiming for? Now that a brand has all of these people "liking" them what are they going to tell them?
This is where a lot of brands fail to deliver. They don't disseminate any information once they have a participant as a "fan." There is no follow up, no dialogue, no participation. It is just an occasional arbitrary update pimping out the latest product or service. This is a fail, which often results in a loss of advocacy.
A good starter for major brands when creating a Facebook social strategy is to formulate a plan. Figure out how you are going to create awareness of your brand. Are you going to create an advertising campaign driving participants to your Facebook Fan page as opposed to a website or microsite? Are there going to be web banners promoting your product or service? Or perhaps a brand wants to create a banner campaign solely promoting their Facebook page. Either way, a plan is in order. One must decide what their objective is, what they are trying to promote, and how to first engage users.
Once a participant arrives at your Facebook fan site how do you keep them there? How do you procure them as a repeat visitor? How do you stay in touch and create a dialogue? There are several methods, but perhaps the most popular is "like-gating." Like-gating is the act of offering a participant valued content but then only making it available to them after they "like" you branded Facebook page. After they click the "like" button the exclusive content is revealed to them and they are free to interact with the page and exclusive content.
The exclusive content given should be either entertaining, informative, or useful. Some brands use exclusive video clips to reward their participants while others offer games, entrainment applications or just access to information. Regardless of what a brand is delivering it must be pertinent and desirable to that participant.
In order for a brand to keep a participant engaged they must continue to deliver content to them on a regular basis. It is bad practice to engage a fan and then maintain radio silence. Make sure to make distribution of information part of your Facebook social strategy or plan. Create a matrix or schedule and keep that participant engaged and informed. Ask the participant questions and let them have a voice regarding the brand. This speaks volumes to a consumer and makes them feel loved and that major brands or corporations really do care about them.
Finally, brands must learn how to turn participants into evangelists. This is perhaps the hardest yet most important challenge of any major brand attempting to execute a social strategy. This can be done in several ways but perhaps the best methodology is to just to put your best idea forward.
The philosophy "Build it and they will come" comes to mind when speaking about Facebook endeavors. We work with Fortune 500 clients everyday to come up with creative, Facebook user experiences. Big brands shouldn't try to force something viral. They shouldn't try to encourage "shares" or a pass-a-long mentality. Brands should work hand in hand with their agencies to just come up with the best idea they possibly can. Make it original. Make it fun. Make it memorable. Make it count. If brands create something truly unique it will be seen and naturally create a "spread fast" reaction which will gain recognition and lead to evangelism.