Guerilla marketers interested in finding ways of gaining significant distribution for free on Facebook are increasingly exploiting a Facebook feature designed to make photos more social.
Photo tag spamming, as it could be called, is a tactic by which marketers who have built large networks of Facebook friends proceed to “tag” their friends in photos in which they do not exist. Why? Here’s how it works.
The Viral Dynamics of Photo Tagging
Photos are extremely popular inside Facebook: Facebook gives both significant visibility on the profile page and significant distribution in the News Feed to photo-related stories. The reason Facebook is the most popular photo sharing site on the web is not because its features are the best, but because its Photos application is very tightly integrated with the social graph.
Tagging is the primary means by which photos are made social: when a user uploads a photo, they can “tag” their friends who appear in the photo. Notifications are sent to tagged friends letting them know that a new tagged photo of them exists on Facebook, and feed stories are published on both the tagger’s and taggee’s profiles.
Users who receive a notification that they have just been tagged usually investigate the photo. If they don’t want to be associated with the picture, they “detag” themselves from it. Similarly, users who see a feed story about their friends being tagged in photos often check out the photo.
Bottom line: Photo-related notifications and feed stories both get a lot of impressions and have a high conversion rate inside Facebook.
Photos as a Facebook Marketing Channel: Opportunities and Limitations
As noted in our Facebook Marketing Bible, which goes into depth on dozens of marketing tactics inside Facebook, tagging Facebook Photos (and Notes as well) can be used to drive traffic. However, legitimate marketers using these tactics should be aware of a couple important limitations:
- If you abuse the implied social contract with your Facebook friends by spamming them with photo tags, you’re sure to quickly develop a low conversion rate and lose friends. And if you tag spam too much, Facebook’s automated spam detection systems will simply shut down your account.
- Unlike Notes, which can include direct links to destination URLs (inside or outside Facebook), Photos can’t. While you can caption the photo or label the photo album with a few words or a URL you’re trying to push, driving traffic to a Photo page through tagging is not likely to produce a lot of traffic to a destination page.
Rather, photo tagging can be used as a way to send specific messages to targeted people – a special kind of social capital transaction not entirely unlike sending a virtual gift or writing on a wall. It can be effectively used to occasionally notify select people whose attention you want to bring to content you’ve created.
Finally, some Facebook applications are making use of photo tagging as well. TouchGraph is a friend network visualization app that outputs photo albums and (somewhat overzealously) tags photos with your friends’ names. KnockedUp is a more interesting example created by an experimental marketing group at Microsoft.
At the end of the day, if Facebook hears a lot of complaints about people “hacking” Facebook Photos, it will likely tighten the controls on accounts that are tagging too much, showing a high detag signal, or getting reported frequently. Marketers should think about more creative, authentic, and social ways of creating “social memes” on Facebook – as opposed to simply trying to spam until they get shut down.
It is possible that Facebook will open up the Photos API more to applications and allow for more robust and viral features to be created by the developer community. If done right, doing so could be great for users, developers, and Facebook. Until then, applications will be somewhat limited in the way they can employ Facebook Photos in their user experiences.