How Facebook Open Graph can enhance a marketing campaign

Ad agency DDB New York developed an alternative to Facebook’s Like button called “I Care,” which publishers can embed on their sites and users can click to show support for a cause. MTV is already using the button on its website for social activism and the effort has gotten coverage from a number of industry blogs and publications.

It’s a great idea, but the campaign is missing something: Open Graph integration.

Here we’ll explain what Open Graph is and explore how DDB could benefit from implementing it, so that marketers can get an idea how Facebook can be applied to campaigns in ways beyond fan pages and ads to generate Likes.

What is Open Graph?

Open Graph is the way that Facebook organizes the information and connections on its platform. It is an extension of Facebook’s social graph that anyone can build upon, whether by adding simple a Like button to a website or developing full-scale integrations like Spotify’s music service.

When Facebook began, users could only connect with other users. With the introduction of the Open Graph protocol in 2010, users became able to connect with objects on Facebook and around the web by clicking Like. By adding a bit of code to their sites, publishers could turn any webpage into a Facebook object. That means the page becomes indexed in Facebook search and gets added to user’s profiles.

Last year, Facebook expanded Open Graph to allow users to connect to objects with new verbs besides Like. These include read, watch, listen and play. Similar to how developers can create objects, they can now create actions. When a third-party website or app implements Open Graph actions, that app can automatically generate stories in News Feed, Ticker and Timeline. This democratizes Facebook in a way because it means the site can be filled with actions that users take and objects users interact with all over the web and on native mobile apps, not just what users do directly on the social network.

When we write about “Open Graph apps” on Inside Facebook, we are referring to any Facebook canvas app, mobile app or website that has integrated “actions” as a means for users to share their activity back on Facebook. Unlike traditional Facebook apps, Open Graph apps can publish stories automatically rather than having to continually prompt users to post things to their Walls. Another unique feature is the monthly and yearly summaries that developers can customize to tell interesting stories about users over time.

How could DDB use Open Graph?

DDB New York’s Chief Creative Officer Matt Eastwood tells us the agency came up with the idea for the I Care button after the tsunami in Japan last year. He says there was so much activity in social media, but “Like” wasn’t an appropriate expression for the articles and photos being shared. Although the agency didn’t have a client to develop the I Care button for, it decided to work on the project during off-hours and release it for anyone to use. MTV Voices partnered with DDB for the launch, which was covered on Fast Company, Creativity Online and other industry news sites. The button is still in beta, and Eastwood says the agency will continue to make improvements. Here are some recommendations for how Open Graph could help sustain the campaign.

When users see an I Care button, they can click it to add to the tally of people supporting a cause. Currently, however, there’s little payoff in doing so. An I Care statement isn’t seen by anyone unless the user chooses to share the activity on Facebook, but that requires two more clicks. With Open Graph integration, the I Care app would ask for posting permission one time and then would be able to instantly send stories back to Facebook whenever users click the I Care button on other sites. Pinterest does this with the Pin It button and now Spotify does so with its Play button. The I Care button — and any website it is included on — would likely get more attention if it was synced with Facebook in this way.

The I Care button would also benefit from the social context that helped make the Like button so popular. When users visit a webpage that their friends have Liked, they will see those friends’ names and photos. With Open Graph, developers can do the same thing. For example, Hulu shows users which of their friends have watched an episode and most social news apps show users who has read an article. The I Care button might be more powerful if users could see who else they know cares about the same topic.

As mentioned before, monthly and yearly summaries are a key feature that results from Open Graph integration. Many users might like to look back at all the things they’ve said they care about, just like they can see all the books they read on Goodreads or all the movies they rated on Rotten Tomatoes. Currently there’s no way for a user to keep track of where they’ve clicked the Care button or reverse the action.

In addition to supporting Timeline summaries, Facebook generates aggregate News Feed stories based on trends it picks up on in Open Graph activity. A common example is “[a number] of your friends listened to [an artist] on Spotify.” When developers create a more detailed map for their actions and objects, Facebook can return additional stories like “[a number] of your friends listened to songs from [a particular year] on Spotify.”

For the I Care button, this could lead to additional impressions and awareness through aggregate News Feed stories. Someone could click I Care on a news article about global warming and another person could click I Care on a story about overfishing, and Facebook could tell those people’s friends “2 of your friends care about environmental issues.”

DDB indicated that it might start compiling information from the I Care button to show what issues are trending. By integrating Facebook more deeply, the agency could collect additional demographic data about who clicks the button so that it could highlight topics that are most important to people of different genders, nationalities or political affiliations, for instance.

There is also the option of targeting advertising based on Open Graph activity. Right now, the feature is in beta for Ads API partners only, but essentially advertisers can explicitly define its target audience by actions and objects rather than simply Likes and interests. DDB could eventually use its app to direct relevant ads — maybe a Sponsored Story about a new electric car — to users who say they care about the environment.

And that’s something marketers really care about.

For more insights into Facebook marketing and advertising strategies, see Inside Network’s Facebook Marketing Bible.