Success Factors for Brands on Facebook

Last week on Facebook, amid the cacophony of status updates, many men received a cheeky invitation — “Turn up your man smell” — from a hopeful new friend: Old Spice. The Procter & Gamble brand was running an ad on the social networking site hoping to increase its 55,000-strong Facebook fan base. By today, Old Spice boasted nearly 175,000.

Brands are finding themselves in a position similar to that of the new kids at summer camp: they’re anxiously looking for friends. In the world of social media, the potency of a person’s network has always been key. Now, this virtual popularity contest has been joined by advertisers, who are scrambling to build fan bases they hope to mobilize on behalf of their brands. (See also: “Brands Seek Fans on Facebook.”)

“These [efforts] are designed to foster word of mouth,” says Jeremiah Owyang, a partner with Altimeter Group, which advises companies on social strategies. “Companies cannot traverse the Web quick enough. They need to create these unpaid armies of customers to do this on their behalf.”

“It’s a metric a senior marketer can identify with,” adds Sarah Hofstetter, svp of emerging media and client strategy at digital agency 360i. “It becomes an easy way of measuring success.”

Brands typically flock to Facebook thanks to its huge audience — it crossed 300 million members last month, according to Facebook — and the enviable amount of time users spend there (a whopping six hours a month per person, according to Nielsen).

Facebook does not keep statistics on the number of brands that have created pages on its platform. But most of the top brands have some sort of presence, and Facebook boasts that it has run campaigns from 83 of the top 100 brands.

Facebook’s audience has proven mostly receptive to the invasion. Of the 15 most popular pages on the site, three belong to corporations: Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Skittles.

There’s no media cost to setting up on Facebook, but brands often find the quickest way to build a sizable following is through — you guessed it — paid advertising.

Take Little Debbie. Nearly six months ago the snack food brand set up shop on Facebook with a standard fan page. It posted updates, uploaded old TV spots and waited. Crickets. Then, last Thursday, it rolled out an engagement ad “reach block” that messaged 21-49-year-olds touting a sweepstakes for a Smart car with the option to become a fan. Within 12 hours, Little Debbie’s fan base went from 5,000 to over 125,000. It welcomed people with a message asking their favorite Little Debbie snack. It got over 6,000 comments.

“We now have a chance to talk to people who have raised their hands and said they love Little Debbie,” says Jay Waters, chief strategy officer at Luckie, the Birmingham, Ala., agency working for Little Debbie. “All brands have a limited number of people who consider themselves fans. It’s a way to give them something special.”

TGI Friday’s saw a big spike in users after running a Facebook ad campaign to promote the page it set up for a character called Woody, created by Publicis New York and Digitas. But it was only after the restaurant chain ran TV spots last month driving people to become fans of Woody that the page took off, according to Jason Steinberg, digital media director, Spark Communications, the Publicis shop that handled the social component of the campaign.

“TV was the big hammer,” said Steineberg. “[Growth] was like an S curve.”

Even for brands that succeed in building a fan base, the work is not yet half done. The real trick after any promotions or ad campaigns that lure in fans is keeping them interested with engaging and useful content. Many brands take a page out of news organizations and set up editorial calendars that include new products, brand content and polling. That inevitably brings up the question of who is in charge of the page. Some brands, like Little Debbie and Friday’s, hand it off to agencies, but others keep it in-house.