Brands Seek Fans on Facebook

Success on Facebook comes from a blend of sheer size of fan base, record of publishing useful content and the extent of consumer interaction that is offered.

We looked at eight major product categories to find the brands that gained the most traction on the site, comparing their Facebook pages to those of competitors to determine which were best and worst at taking full advantage of the platform.

Some big-name players — Coca-Cola, Best Buy, Starbucks and Microsoft among them — are performing especially well on the social-media site. Others, however, including Burger King, Walmart, Dell and Geico, might be missing some prime opportunities to interact with their current and potential customers.


SUCCESS FACTORS

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.

“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.

Scott Monty, digital and multimedia communications manager at Ford, says keeping it in-house helps them communicate with consumers. “On the dialog front … enthusiasts taking the time to seek out Ford would expect an official Ford rep to engage” with them, he says.
 
Communicating with a fan base comes with a challenge: the need to find a voice for the brand, which is what those most successful in building large followings typically have done. Yet all too often, the voice is more of a reflection of who’s handling the communication than it is the brand personality, says Brian Solis, president of FutureWorks.

Like everything else in social media, measurement remains in flux. There is no standard framework for measuring the importance of a brand fan, although nearly everyone agrees it has value.

Still, the question remains how much more valuable a fan is than, say, someone who comments on a brand video, says Scott Symonds, gm of media, search and analytics at AKQA. “That’s a big part of what we’re trying to figure out,” he says.

CONSUMER PACKAGED GOODS: COCA-COLA

The granddaddy of Facebook brand pages wasn’t even started by the soft drink giant. Two fans created the page in August 2008 and it went on to become the top product page on the site. Perhaps Coke learned its lesson from the Diet Coke-Mentos phenomenon, when it objected to the use of its product in a viral Web video hit. This time out, instead of playing the corporate heavy, Coke brought the two consumers to company headquarters and invited them to continue to run the page with backing from Coke.

Stats: 3.7 million fans; regular promotions include one that solicits videos for a shot at appearing in a Coke commercial.

Missed Opportunity… Pepsi. The company makes a disappointing showing on Facebook, given that it’s a digitally and socially savvy brand. The Refresh Everything page has 250,000 fans, a fraction of rival Coke’s. The company mostly uses it as a channel for pumping out updates of marketing activities.

RETAIL: BEST BUY

At a tough time for electronics outlets — witness the demise of Circuit City — Best Buy is pushing the envelope with social shopping. Its Facebook page doesn’t just tout products, it lets visitors browse from the site and get feedback on items from Facebook friends. It’s also using the site to get general feedback from its customers, sometimes to a fault.

A recent post asking users what they thought of the company offering a BestBuy.com in Spanish ignited a firestorm of hostile and offensive comments. The company acted quickly by taking the post down.

Stats: 842,000 fans; one of the richest retail pages on Facebook, featuring “shop and share” and “gift ideas” applications.

Missed Opportunity… Walmart. The retailer might be the biggest on the face of the Earth, but you wouldn’t know it on Facebook. The company clearly has its work cut out for it in the give and take of social media, but hiding is a dubious strategy. Its page has less than 17,000 fans and no content.

RESTAURANT/FOODS: STARBUCKS

The chain has flexed its brand muscles on Facebook, running several ad campaigns to plumb its fan base, even to the point of offering free ice cream this past summer. Some say luring fans in with freebies means fleeting success, but Starbucks’ fan page is growing over 3 percent per week, according to AllFacebook, putting it on track to overtake Will Smith in popularity on the site.


Stats:
4.5 million fans; ice cream and pastry giveaways clearly resonate with consumers; the company’s social strategy was enough for Altimeter Group to rank it the No.1 most-connected brand.

Missed Opportunity… Burger King. Not many ad icons nowadays have the appeal of Burger King’s mascot, but the brand is curiously absent from the social networking platform. That’s too bad because it clearly has cachet among users as evidenced by the avalanche of responses to the short-lived “Whopper sacrifice” campaign last January.

TECHNOLOGY: MICROSOFT

Unlike its nettlesome rival Apple, which is so beloved it doesn’t need a Facebook fan page, Microsoft typically has to go the extra distance. The company has a sophisticated Facebook strategy with fan pages for several different product lines. This helps build focused fan bases for Internet Explorer, Windows, Surface and its MVP Award Program of product evangelists. The approach lets the behemoth act smaller.

Stats: Over 300,000 fans; used the Bing page to solicit feedback on features the new search engine needs.

Missed Opportunity… Dell. Despite a concerted effort at social media, Dell hasn’t cracked the Facebook code. It has about 40,000 fans who get a regular stream of product releases. What’s missing is the feedback loop Dell started with its Ideastorm site in 2007.

APPAREL: ADIDAS

For a brand used to playing second fiddle to big-spending rival Nike, turnabout is fair play. Adidas Originals is a Facebook powerhouse thanks to its trove of quality content and event information. The brand has a “your area” tab that populates with localized content.

Stats: 2.1 million fans; posts photos and videos; updates a few times per week.

Missed Opportunity… Nike. As the ultimate passion brand, Nike would figure to be quite popular on Facebook. And it has amassed 382,000 followers. But talk about anti-social. Nike hasn’t updated the page since July. Just do it, Nike.

INSURANCE: AFLAC

For some brands, fan bases are best built around characters. That’s been the case for Aflac, which has attracted fans for its trademark duck’s quirky updates. The brand gets the character’s voice right, mixing charity pleas with offbeat takes on news from the duck’s perspective.

The company, seeing how far it can go, has taken the duck to Twitter where he’s attracted over 3,000 followers.

Stats: 161,000 fans; mixes updates with charity pitches and contests; posts daily.

Missed Opportunity… Geico gecko. If a duck can do it, a lizard can, too. Yet the Geico gecko has never found his footing on Facebook. The page has just 6,800 fans. The lizard’s droll tone doesn’t carry over to the site. Instead, his updates sound a lot like the voice of a PR pro.

AUTOMOTIVE: FORD

The automaker has lately fared better across the board than its domestic peers. It’s also beating its competitors in social media, including on Facebook. Ford Mustang has built up a loyal following, and Ford is an active updater on the company’s official corporate page.

Stats: Over 370,000 fans on the Ford, Mustang and Fusion pages; mix of product and event information with photos and videos.

Missed Opportunity… Toyota has nearly 50,000 fans, yet it hasn’t updated its page since June.

AIRLINE: SOUTHWEST

It’s hard to find anyone who’s a fan of air travel nowadays — but there are plenty of them on Southwest’s Facebook page, which succeeds with a personal approach. Rather than craft a brand voice, for instance, Southwest introduces “hosts” Lindsey and Christi. Frequent polling keeps interaction high. Southwest has more Facebook cachet than hotter brands like JetBlue and  Virgin America.

Stats: 80,000 fans; high customer engagement thanks to fun promos.

Missed Opportunity… United Airlines. Not exactly a passion brand, United Airlines could stand to have something more than an empty page with 11,000 intrepid fans.

Nielsen Business Media