Coca-Cola, Facebook, Microsoft, YouTube On Social Party Line

Mike Murphy

Microsoft unveiled mobile phones about two weeks ago on Facebook. The handsets, the Kin One and the Kin Two, aim at a younger crowd who live in social networks. Rather than wait for the product launch, Microsoft reversed the order and unveiled the campaign first.

Verizon Wireless holds the exclusive deal in the United States for the phones made by Sharp. Both become available mid-May. And although they have yet to launch, the Facebook page supports more than 100,000 Fans. All that love prompted Microsoft briefly to put the brakes on the campaign.

Facebook Fans are important -- but Mich Mathews, chief marketing officer at Microsoft, told attendees at the exclusive 40-exec invitation-only PTTOW event in Dana Point, Calif. that when brands play in social, it's just as important to follow the writing on the wall, whether it's positive or negative.

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Marketing experts who gathered for the two-day event agree that it has become a continual learning process to integrate social media into campaigns. And it's even tougher when the audience becomes consumers ranging in age between 14 and 34. This age group tends to discuss likes and dislikes online more freely. They talk about brands whether or not those brands have official sites and pages on Facebook or YouTube.

For brands, the real question becomes how to participate and become more social with consumers. But some have begun to wonder whether the name reflects the real essence of the campaign.

Mike Murphy, Facebook's vice president of global sales, prefers that folks do not call Facebook "a pure social media site," but agrees that's the name that will stick until the industry can collectively create a better definition for the success it has seen. "We have a long way to go to figure out the best model," he says.

Brands are slowly figuring it out. Facebook Fan pages have become "a sustainable asset even after the campaign ends." And while it gives brands a "social" platform to continue the conversation, it also means that marketers must tend to the upkeep and keep consumers engaged.

Carol Kruse, vice president of global interactive marketing at Coca-Cola Co., likens social media campaigns to puppies. Everyone wants a puppy. The problem is that puppies grow into dogs that need walking, feeding and lots of love and care. "Social media is like a puppy -- everyone wants to start a community," she says. "What they forget is the 24/7 365 reality TV show. You have to provide the content, engage the community and focus on what's important rather than just let it fall."

Brands that start a community must keep it alive. Coca-Cola has millions of members -- about the most of any company on Facebook, and those members run the community. It keeps the Fan authentic and the community members brand advocates. Fans tend to educate those who comment on negative stuff. "We have a well-fed, well-walked dog," Kruse says. "It's a couple of years old and thriving."

Whether or not brands have an official presence, they are being discussed online. Allowing the community to talk among themselves becomes one way to keep costs in check and content fresh, says Hunter Walk, who heads product development at YouTube.

"We get 24 hours of new content uploaded every minute," Walk says. "It's the best thing about my project, but also one of the most challenging, because we need to help the user find what they're looking for without a struggle."

Aside from social media, the brands on the panel have begun to dabble in mobile campaigns. Kruse says in South Korea and Japan about 70% of the digital views for Coca-Cola come from mobile phones. Everything leads with digital in Africa. Creating an iPhone application continues as the biggest disservice that ad agencies can do to clients when introducing a mobile strategy. And it happens more often in the United States.

Kruse wants to see more text-based campaigns reach all the people who text. Not only does Coca-Cola add mobile, but three different kinds. More of the marketer budget has moved over to not only target teens and young adults, but everyone.

Microsoft has begun to experiment with location and mobile. The company has been working on a platform that allows the handset owner to view a street in Bing Maps as the merchant serves up a coupon for the store, Mathews says.

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