Microsoft found a potent way to make friends on Facebook: offer users of hyper-popular social game FarmVille virtual currency.
The in-game offer on Tuesday resulted in Microsoft's Bing page gaining 425,000 fans in a single day, more than tripling the 117,000 fans it had.
The program, created by digital agency Deep Focus and brand engagement network Social Vibe, shows the potency of the exploding world of social gaming, fueled by currency that lets players buy virtual items. Zynga's FarmVille is a runaway smash on Facebook, boasting over 82 million players who tend crops and raise livestock on virtual farms.
A FarmVille prompt during the game offered users FarmVille cash, redeemable for items like seeds and virtual tractors to tend to faux farms, if users became fans of Bing on Facebook. Players do not have to leave the game to become fans and earn the currency.
"We know that social environments tend to have more meaningful engagement with the Bing product," said Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus. "It's important for us to engage people who are engaging with other people."
The campaign is an example of how brands are looking again at the idea of directly rewarding customers for their attention. Previous efforts that offered rewards like discounts, airline miles and even real cash faltered. Schaefer said those programs did not have the advantage of the emerging trend of virtual goods.
FarmVille and other social games have came under fire for their lead-generation tactics of offering virtual cash in exchange for marketing offers. Some claimed those offers were misleading, sticking players with charges or services they didn't want. Zynga pulled those lead-generation efforts and has slowly introduced alternative methods to earning currency.
The challenge now is keeping those 425,000 fans and converting them into Bing users, said Lynn Girotto, senior director of engagement marketing at the search engine.
Microsoft's social media team has crafted Facebook updates designed to cater to FarmVille users. Today it sent out an update reading, "Any FarmVille fans out there? Try using Bing to get the most out of your crops and animals." It links to a Bing search result for "FarmVille animals." The update drew 585 comments in four hours and 20,000 click-throughs.
Microsoft has plans to post other content related to FarmVille users, who tend to skew female and older, such as links to Bing's travel features and Cashback rebate program.
"The value exchange added a huge amount of effectiveness to this effort," said Liz Tassey Gerber, group marketing manager for social media at Bing. "It opens the door to that value exchange from being about FarmVille Cash to being about search and decision-making."