February 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

Building Buzz

Social consumers make great brand ambassadors, but brands must give them a story worth telling.

Lead Photo

Online coupon distributor RetailMeNot.com knows how to get people talking. More than 65,000 Facebook users interacted with RetailMeNot's Facebook page in a single week in early January, Liking the page, posting to it or passing on content from it to their Facebook friends, according to Facebook data.

Many of those interactions stemmed from RetailMeNot's mid-December launch of its "Today's Top Deals" Facebook application, says Jag Bath, senior vice president, product, at WhaleShark Media Inc., which operates RetailMeNot. The application enables shoppers to scroll through a mix of exclusive coupons, promotional codes and deals from merchants such as Gap. Inc., Petco Animal Supplies Inc. and Dell Inc. Consumers are eager to share news of a good deal, Bath says, and that's exactly what RetailMeNot was looking for when its in-house designers and engineers crafted the application. "We realized that if we really wanted to get people sharing, we'd have to give them a reason to share," he says.

Brands want consumers to share and engage with their content on Facebook because those interactions are seen by their friends in their Ticker, which features updates on what a Facebook user's friends are doing at that moment, as well as on the news feed, which dominates the page a consumer sees when logging on to Facebook.com. The news feed displays the actions of a consumer's friends. Those posts provide free exposure for brands, says social media consultant Nichole Goodyear.

But convincing consumers to share or interact on Facebook or other social networks isn't easy, Goodyear says. "Most people are just going to look at a piece of content and scroll down the page," she says. "It's a small minority that actually creates, or interacts with, a piece of content."

The numbers bear that out—an analysis of 16 brands that together posted more than 1,500 pieces of content in early 2011 found that social network users most often interacted with photos. Yet, even photos had only a 0.37% engagement rate, according to marketing agency Web Liquid. That is, of every 10,000 consumers who viewed a photo, 37 Liked it, commented on it or passed it on to a friend.

Compelling offers

Brands want to encourage that behavior and there are two ways to do it, Goodyear says: Make content compelling or reward shoppers for sharing. That means retailers and brands have to know their customers well enough to understand what will spur them to share—and in these still-early days of social marketing that's not always easy to predict.

Rewards must grab consumers to be effective, Goodyear says. That's why Visa Inc. decided to leverage its NFL sponsorship to generate attention on Facebook. Few events are bigger than the Super Bowl, so the payment card brand came up with a prize designed to stand out from the marketing clutter: a trip to the Super Bowl for a consumer and 10 of his friends.

Visa introduced its You + 10 Super Bowl Sweepstakes on Facebook in December. Visa and digital agency AKQA developed a Facebook app that, when a Facebook user enters the contest, analyzes data from the social network to determine the consumer's 10 closest Facebook friends and lets him "draft" those 10 friends onto his Super Bowl team.

The idea came from Visa research showing that on average football fans spend 24 minutes on game day interacting with friends on Facebook about the game. "That let us know that football isn't just a social game if people are physically with their friends, but also virtually on social media," says Alex Craddock, Visa's head of North American marketing.

Because the You+10 Draft application has an element of surprise—most of the friends it "drafts" are expected, but some may be unexpected—users are eager to share it, Craddock says. The application spurred more than 13,000 interactions in one week between the Visa NFL and Visa Inc. Facebook pages, which exceeded Visa's projections, he adds.

Anything a Facebook user interacts with appears on his friends' Facebook Ticker and most of those posts also show up on their news feeds. Because the average Facebook user has 130 friends on the social network, those more than 13,000 interactions likely resulted in nearly 1.7 million impressions. While Visa declined to disclose the cost to build the application—Craddock called it "not particularly huge"—the investment is paying off by growing the card brand's presence on Facebook. "It gets the Visa name out there," he says.

What doesn't work

The success of Visa's You+10 Draft contest stands in contrast to the Memory Mapper application that Visa introduced in April. Consumers could craft videos leveraging Google Maps to share via Facebook photos, videos and commentary about their travels. While the app worked well—the videos it creates are cool, Craddock says—the application didn't take off. "There's no magic recipe for what will go viral and what won't," he says.

Anything that requires consumers to do a lot of work is likely to fail, says Goodyear, the social marketing consultant. The Memory Mapper may have simply been too much work, as it required consumers to upload photos and videos, add commentary, explain where the photos were shot, and choose music to accompany the video.

The You+10 Draft app is much simpler. All it requires a user to do is click a Draft Your Ten button and give authorization for Visa to access his Facebook data. "We leveraged what worked and we sought to avoid repeating the same mistakes," Craddock says. "Memory Mapper helped us gain a number of insights into how consumers behave on Facebook."

Brand-building

Simple works, says Mark Krebs, vice president of marketing at multichannel home décor retailer Kirkland's Inc., who took that approach in a contest last April designed to boost its Facebook fan base. Working with marketing agency redpepper, Kirkland's offered consumers the chance to win cash. For every Facebook Like the retailer received, it placed a dime into a virtual cash register. At the end of the promotion one consumer who entered the contest won a $25,000 cash prize.

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