How Can Brands Really Succeed on Facebook?

Over breakfast this morning I was talking with someone from a large media company who was trying to determine their social media strategy. During the conversation the individual inquired about what the best strategy is for launching new applications on Facebook and what their overall general social media strategy should be.

Are Facebook Applications Part of Social Media?

It’s easy to jump at the bait and say that Facebook applications are part of social media. After thinking about it I’m a little more skeptical. While top applications provide platforms for communication, the owners of the applications don’t actively engage their users. Contrast this with a social media strategy which includes blogging, micro-blogging, commenting, tagging, etc.

A normal social media campaign is considered one because it is conversational. Many of the applications that brands are currently launching on social networks do not provide conversations between the users and the brand. If that’s the case can they really be considered part of a “social media” campaign? Just because the applications are on Facebook doesn’t mean the actual applications are social media.

As such I would argue that only some Facebook applications can be considered social media. It really depends on whether they are conversational. What do you think?

How Does One Build a Successful Facebook Application?

Regardless of whether or not you consider Facebook applications a core component of social media, there is another challenging issue for brands: launching a successful application. If you consider applications a form of advertisement, as Buddy Media says they are, success is based on the number of users that have ever engaged with your application.

For me success means being among the top applications in the Facebook application directory. Currently there are no branded applications at the top though based on the number of monthly active users. Ultimately building engaging content is most important and fine-tuning applications so that they attract repeat usage is important. This is an extremely challenging thing to accomplish though and the worst part is that nobody can guarantee you success.

With the new Facebook design and the decreased visibility of applications it has become even more challenging to launch a successful application. That doesn’t mean it isn’t possible, it just means it takes more time and a little more luck.

Do All Companies Belong on Facebook?

Many users on Facebook may read The Economist, but they don’t read The Economist on Facebook. Does that mean that the Economist shouldn’t be promoting on Facebook then? Probably not but ultimately I think the assumption that there is a Facebook application for every company isn’t accurate. While companies should experiment with other forms of advertisements on Facebook (including fan pages and Facebook ads), Facebook applications aren’t for all.

Over the coming months I think we are going to see an increasing emphasis on the feed through Facebook Connect. On Facebook and other social networks social presence is extremely important. Imagine being able to run reports to find out how many people are talking about your brand and sharing your content. In this environment brand evangelists become more important than Facebook applications.

It’s about empowering users to share your content rather then enticing them to temporarily interact in a branded environment. While branded applications will always work as a quick advertisement (or “appvertisement” as Buddy Media has branded it), the true long-term social media strategy both on and off Facebook is getting your users to talk about your brand whenever they engage with it.

It’s more than building one-off interactions. When a consumer uses your brand in the future encourage them to share their experience with their friends and educate them as to how they can share. Facebook and other platforms for social media will then naturally do what they were meant for: amplifying the signal about your brand.