(This essay was co-authored with Jeff Molander, Web marketing expert, speaker and CEO of Molander & Associates Inc.)
Just as Part 1 of this essay looked at Google's innovation at the "macro" level, we want to look at what Facebook is doing at the literal other end of the telescope.
Hey, Now You Behave!
Facebook has announced a plan to run "engagement ads," which prompt individual visitors to vote or comment (or whatever) on a movie, news item, or other trigger...which will then prompt the appearance of an ad, event invite, or widget to get posted on the user's home page.
The idea is to get people doing something instead of simply staring at their computer screens. And it's interesting, because the fundamental premise is really smart. Who cares what people think when stuff flashes before them? Unless they act, they probably 1) didn't see it, and/or 2) forgot it once they did.
Welcome to the problem facing most advertising in any medium.
The bigger issue is one of relevance, and it's a common challenge for all social media and networking sites: nobody wants to get sold to, no matter how brilliantly hilarious or innocuous it might be. Yet what happens when Facebookians are asked to participate in an act that is relevant to their world in some novel way? Perhaps the "ad" taps into a user's inner beast or passion. Suddenly we're talking about inducing a specific group of behaviors and assigning value to it.
You could see this latest program as a direct response ad gimmick… or just another way to drive traffic to Facebook's site (which is exactly that its founder says he wants to do). Even if it doesn't make them any money, he says that the financial model will simply emerge over time, which is kind of like me arguing that my mortgage payment will materialize somewhere in my checkbook, but nevertheless...
Listen, Learn, Prompt, Repeat
Who knows if prompting these behaviors from said visitors will help or hurt the experience. On the other hand, think of what this approach suggests for every marketer:
- Take ads beyond clicks: Why couldn't the measures for your online advertising be all about behaviors that matter – not just impressions or clicks about a product or service? Couldn't everything you put online have a content or meaning-component that drives engagement?
- Systematize customer service & PR: The old model involves helping people who ask for help… and then stop helping them when they no longer need it. The Internet is inherently interactive – meaning you can reach out to customers and help them identify/resolve issues earlier on. You can then find ways for them to stay engaged afterwards (forward solutions, help find new answers, etc.). You can listen, learn and offer advice to nip problems in the bud. Hmmm… perhaps we’re talking about the death of re-active "crisis communications?"
- Build loyalty: Couldn't you find new ways to engage your current customers? There's no reason why they can't share favorite movies or detested foods via your corporate social media, right? Look around and see this in action at companies like Best Buy. In fact, this company has been-there-done-that. Taking their hands off the wheel, Best Buy is allowing any Web site owner to take Best Buy's content (for free) and integrate it into their own social networking sites, blogs, mobile applications and beyond. Not for everyone, but you get the picture.
There's some interesting innovation going on at both the macro and micro levels. Lots of bright bulbs are involved. And we bet that the conclusions will surprise them, as well as us.