May 27, 2010, 6:46 PM

New service turns Facebook News Feeds into polling places

Context Optional launched this month a set of software-as-a-service tools for its social marketing suite for Facebook. Threadless, a T-shirt e-retailer, is using the company’s polling tool to get its fans revved up about its new shirts.

Yet another Facebook marketing app hit the market this month, and this one is giving at least one e-retailer good results. Context Optional launched a set of software-as-a-service tools for its social marketing suite for Facebook. Threadless, a T-shirt e-retailer, is using the vendor’s polling tool to get fans revved up about its new shirts.  

Cam Balzer, vice president of marketing for Threadless, says the retailer used the polling tool to generate buzz for a series of T-shits it was planning to sell on its site in the next few days. The poll asked “What do you plan to do tonight?” and gave respondents five choices, each related to one of the soon-to-be-released T-shits. For example, one of the answers was “Prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse” to help promote its famous Zombie line of T-shirts, a new one of which would go on sale that week.

Balzer says the poll collected 700 responses within an hour, significant considering that each comment the retailer makes on its profile page typically attracts 100-150 “likes” and comments.  Balzer and Context Optional say a key selling point of the new Facebook tools is that they appear right in a user’s News Feed, the first page Facebook users see when they sign in.  That means a fan of Threadless doesn’t need to visit the Threadless Facebook page to participate in the poll. “We post it on Facebook and our fan will see it in their stream,” Balzer says. “Instead of having to click though to our page, the poll window pops up directly in the stream.”

The application was easy to add, Balzer says. A user interface on the Context Optional dashboard takes Threadless step by step though the process of adding a poll, allowing it to choose the style of text and of questions and answers, Balzer says. Clients also can add the polls as a tab on their Facebook pages, Balzer says.  Threadless pays a flat license fee for the software, Balzer says.  

He says he also plans to use the Context Optional coupon feature, which will allow Threadless to offer fans a coupon right on their News Feeds.  Balzer says Threadless will use the coupons as a way to collect more information on its fans. “We can choose to ask for some data in exchange for the coupon and if they want to provide that data, they can do so right in their home page stream,” Balzer says. He says fans also will be able to share the coupon code with friends, spreading the Threadless brand even more.

Other tools in Context Optional’s new offering include enabling customers to send coupons from their News Feeds to their mobile phones, print coupons from News Feeds, and allowing companies to geo-target specials and promotions to shoppers in specific areas. Clients also can use the suite to place product catalogs on their Facebook pages as well as in fans’ News Feeds. Clients also can add images, videos and links to appear in News Feeds. All the tools offer built-in tracking to help companies discover who is viewing and engaging in them. Companies can track fan growth, measure engagement over time and compare campaign results, Context Optional says.

"Stream apps, especially polls and coupons, are going to be invaluable for us to engage our Facebook friends and deepen those relationships, Balzer says. “Plus the ability to manage it all from one dashboard is awesome."

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