3 "Apparent Truths" to Facebook as a Marketing Platform

John Bell VP Enterprise Digital Marketing, Travelers

Posted on December 9th 2007

Facebookstar1 Recently Rohit asked a bunch of folks about our top choices for overused or misunderstood terms. Who knows what publicity play he's got in mind for that one (could be for his upcoming book).

One of mine is "Facebook Strategy" - as in brand manager to agency: "make sure there is a facebook strategy in the plan...."

How can marketers productively "engage" (that is my euphemism for "doing something productive without spoiling the ecosystem or pissing people off") inside Facebook? It is not quite the wild west of MySpace where marketers can create fake character pages or real brand pages and no one really cares. In Facebook, our social graph works based upon our identity. We are not anonymous- for the most part. Marketers read the paper, they have feed readers. They know Facebook is growing 300%. They know it's deemed "cooler" than MySpace by most yet still has the mass subscription that makes it feel like the new mass media.

In it all, some smart people are trying to figure out how best to leverage Facebook. That means get results that meet expectations for brands and be of-use to those (myself included) who are actively in Facebook.  From our experience and the observation of smarties like Jeremiah Owyang, Nick ONeill and others here are some apparent truths (it's way too early for 'rules')

1. Traditional advertising alone inside Facebook is not the answer
As Nick puts it in AllFacebook:

"Facebook's performance as an advertising channel is still under debate. I have previously reported that Facebook has horrendously low click-thru rates. That is still the case but perhaps click-thru rates are not what should be measured."

2. Facebook Applications (e.g. Widgets) are more interesting for advertisers but, as my friend Cap says, designing and building apps is not in every advertiser's "wheelhouse."

There is a whole new class of developers focused on creating applications for different social networks. They are poised to develop for Open Social but the realities of that cross-social network standard are still being worked out. So they create for Facebook, for MySpace and for lesser populated social networks or services (e.g. my blogging platform, Typepad features a collection of widgets). Examples of these apps from sponsors include:

ABCNews has an app on Facebook. Apparently they are not so happy with it's performance. Nick's pov?

"That's not as much of a result of a poor performing advertising campaign as it is a result of a poorly designed Facebook application."

Developing a great app requires thinking less about "delivering on the brand" and more about how can you be of-use to people such that they install and use your app. we are working with some developers focused on app developoment. There is a lot of great work being odne and some indescriminate work, as well. Like a lot of social media, it takes a bit of brand (and developer) humility to be successful.

3. Get experience with an integrated marketing approach that leverages all of Facebook
While we know that simple ads may not perform inside Facebook the way that advertisers are used to, there are several choices for how marketers can engage. Time to try a mosaic approach. It will be a while before we can predict what collection of co-dependent activities work for different brands, now is the time to try some different recipes. Here are the ingredients that I can think of. Let me know if you have any more.

Facebook "Pages" - I put quotes around it to distinguish it from creating a user profile. But wait! It's not that much different. Here's what I like about them in Facebook's own language (remember, this is their ad sales page so the language is, oh so romantic)

"When your fans interact with your Facebook Page, the actions they take are automatically generated into social stories. These stories are published to News Feed, which friends may see the next time they log into Facebook. The stories link back to your Facebook Page, inviting more people to interact with it, which generates more social stories and drives even more traffic to your Page."

Social Ads - are contextual ads targeting users based on their preferences. they are best used in conjunction with Pages. I love how easy Facebook makes it sound:

"Creating a Social Ad is quick and easy. Simply write a creative, tell us who you want seeing your ad, and decide where you want to drive traffic. You can buy ads by number of clicks (CPC) or by number of impressions (CPM)."

Straight-up advertising - you know, display advertising or banners
Groups - Form a group around your brand or topic related to your brand. Again, this works only if your brand or someone from your barnd has a presence in Facebook via a personal profile or a brand Page.

Facebook Beacon - well, enough has been said over the past two weeks as Facebook was raked over the coals and then achieved the inevitable redemption by doing the redemptive act (i.e. "I'm sorry..."). Is it inherently insidious or did a dark arts-usage just take over the headlines? I believe Facebooks accomodation was to make the functionality require explicit opt-in from the user. Their description still talks "opt-out" but regardless, here is the promise of the service:

"Facebook Beacon enables your brand or business to gain access to viral distribution within Facebook. Stories of a user's engagement with your site may be displayed in his or her profile and in News Feed. These stories will act as a word-of-mouth promotion for your business and may be seen by friends who are also likely to be interested in your product."

Applications - this is the fun stuff from the My Starbucks app to the Epicurious recipe of the Day. Marketers can create little applications or widgets that do something useful or delightful that users can embed in their profile pages.

Use these things together to get the most bang for your buck. But always think of the end user - what will they find useful or delightful.


Jeremiah's got some great observations from his stint at the Web Community Forum. Sounds like he's going to generate some interesting reports and videos on teh subject. So, stay tuned as we all learn more.

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John Bell

VP Enterprise Digital Marketing, Travelers


I head up Enterprise Digital Marketing at Travelers. Just as Travelers anticipates the needs of personal and business insurance customers in an ever-changing world, we approach marketing differently. The customer journey has changed. To meet these new behaviors, we put data-driven content, digital marketing and social engagement at the heart of marketing.  


Previously, I developed, grew and ran Ogilvy’s global, social media solutions practice – Social@Ogilvy.  The world’s largest network of social media and business strategists, the team believes in the power and impact of truly integrated social media business solutions. I drove senior client engagements, the development of Ogilvy’s social planning framework, and a global training program for staff and clients, alike. Our work  combines deep disciplines like crm, public relations, advertising and shopper marketing and rooted in what drives behavior.  

I have developed and executed enterprise social media strategy for the Ford Motor Company, Nestle, IBM, Coca Cola, and DuPont - including work winning a Silver Lion at Cannes.  I launched a single brand Facebook initiative in 20+ countries, helped telcos in Australia and Greece adopt social care and marketing and consulted with consumer goods marketers in Turkey. 

Discovery Communications

Discovery Channel was one of the first media properties to really experiment with the Web. I was brought in as Creative Director to transform a single Web site into a network of 14 Web properties known as Discovery.com. We had live, online expeditions from the field. Reporters posted stories, audio and video from Australia in search of giant spiders and from the bottom of the ocean where they explored the Titanic wreckage for the first time. All while the events were happening.  I designed and built online experiences for TLC, Animal Planet, Discovery Kids, Discovery Health, Travel Channel not to mention a host of digital TV network sites and global sites.

AT&T, Viacom & Media Circus

The first wave of innovation was Interactive Television (iTV) in 1990.  I headed up the Visual Design Studio at Downtown Digital, a joint venture between Viacom and AT&T to create the most futuristic vision of interactive television anyone could imagine. I created programming for kids, gamers, and fully interactive applications for Paramount Studios and Entertainment Tonight.  This model of set-top box delivered interactivity remains a vision for all iTV innovation.

I created the first Interactive Advertisement for American Express during that ITV trial. Then, as a founding member and Creative Director, I formed Media Circus Interactive Advertising in New York during the 1990's. We created award-winning CD-ROMs including designing the first interactive advertisement on Launch, then a CD-ROM zine, for Sony. I also designed the first I-Spy CD-ROM for Scholastic extending the brand into the electronic space and pushing the limits of what an interactive experience could be. At the same time the Internet was exploding. I designed and built complicated transaction sites for Gateway Computers and wild experiments like MTV’s Web service that connected “stringers” all across the country reporting on the music scene in their community (sound a bit like blogging? It should and the year was 1995).

Charlex, M&Co. and RGA

My early career was in television design and production. I literally grew up at Charlex, a design and production company, producing some of the most artful and innovative television commercials and pioneering the use of complex blue and green screen effects. I count Alex Weil as a huge influence as well as Tibor Kalman. Tibor ran M&Co. (and  was CD at Interview Magazine) and taught me what it really means to be a Creative Director. We produced his first moving media designs including a design prototype for Godfather III titles using a vacuuform machine. I produced complex, design-based television commercials with RGA and learned a tremendous amount from Robert Greenberg and, at that time, Executive Producer Andy Arkin.   

I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts in European history and spent a lot of time at the Annenberg School of Communications.I loved Philly and worked at an innovative, post-punk restaurant - the Knave of Hearts - on South Street.  

Memberships & Affiliations

  • I served on the board as past president of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA)
  • I currently serve on the Advisory Panel for Social Media Today
  • I served on the advisory board to PBS Engage at PBS.org
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