As a social search engine, Facebook does many things well. With membership growing exponentially, you can find almost anyone who's online there. The Facebook buzz continues to build with brand marketers, consumers, and social media mavens.
Facebook, though, isn't flawless. Case in point: the TripAdvisor Facebook application discussed here. You'll recall TripAdvisor's application generates about 85,000 active users who place pins on a virtual map showing where they've traveled. That's local search at its best.
Show Us the Money
Where's the revenue stream for Facebook?
Facebook doesn't receive a dime from TripAdvisor for this application. TripAdvisor, on the other hand, receives tremendous brand value.
There's e-commerce and now, social commerce. TripAdvisor will receive future "socialommerce" from the Facebook app in the coming weeks. You'll see TripAdvisor integrate specific deals (hotels, airfare, vacation packages, etc.) for the cities people "pin." Users and their friends will have the ability to click directly on these deals to book travel.
Many companies that develop popular applications have started to sell advertising/brand placements within the applications themselves. This isn't small change, either. Popular applications like the "Oregon Trail" (yes the same game many of us played on a Texas Instrument computer) or "Fun Wall" can reach as high as 3,669,000 active users.
Again, the apps generate zero revenue for Facebook, with the social platform cut out of the revenue loop.
Missed revenue opportunities are not the only Facebook flaw. They've put the spotlight on their users commercial transactions, creating a huge backlash.
Why Did Facebook Beacon Users?
Beacon is the marketing initiative Facebook would have rolled out differently. Beacon alerts your friends in Facebook about some of your activities conducted on the Web outside Facebook. The problem? Facebook users weren't made aware of the change.
So Facebook became the Grinch who tried to steal Christmas. Or at least, potentially spoil it.
For example, if you had purchased a Christmas present for relatives in your Facebook network, they had a good idea of what present you bought for them. "Alert: Erik Qualman just purchased the latest Harry Potter book at amazon.com."
Facebook has since adjusted the way users are opted into Beacon.
What's the Best Marketing Play in Facebook?
This is a somewhat complex answer that depends on a lot of factors. If you're new to Facebook as a company, the first thing you should do is perform a search on your brand terms. There's a high probability even though you haven't lifted a finger yet, someone else has. Facebook users may have already set up multiple groups around your brand.
A group page is analogous to a water cooler on steroids (share photos, comments, post information, etc.). A good start: read what discussions are going on and determine why one group is more popular than the next. This will give you good insight into what the users are interested in, many of whom are probably already consumers of your product/service.
The good news: it's relatively inexpensive for marketers to get started in Facebook, a change that occurred only recently. Up until about a month ago, marketers needed to commit a minimum $300,000 media buy with Facebook in order to have a sponsored group page (a group page allows for more marketing bells and whistles).
This media buy was generally money well spent because it drove Facebook users to sign-up to your sponsored group page. However, not every company can risk $300,000.
Build Brand Equity Free on Facebook
Recently, though, Facebook announced the "page" with improved "bells and whistles." It's absolutely free for advertisers to develop. It essentially replaces the sponsored group page.
Obviously, this has caused quite a rift with existing advertisers with sponsored group memberships. They now must move their sponsored groups to a page.
For Apple, with 450,000 members, it's no small feat. These are some of the growing pains that Facebook will learn to understand with an existing base of high profile, big ticket clients. Simple things, like, get your major clients' input first (kind of like asking your users first before beaconing them).
Ultimately, the release of this new "page" capability was well received by the majority of advertisers and users.
As a marketer, while there's no monetary barrier to entry, you'll want to strategically vet out a comprehensive plan before launching something that might damage your brand's reputation. However, you should move quickly. Others will develop their own pages around your brand.
How to Hire Facebook App Developers
Many companies have decided to dive into Facebook with a robust application first rather than developing a more complex page. There are several agencies that now specialize in Facebook application development (e.g., Slide, RockYou). Not surprisingly, these agencies can be quite pricey.
Moving fast, many companies have succeeded by using younger consultants or software developers to quickly launch a high quality application. Speed is of the essence.
Rather than developing your own application, you can find great value in reaching out to smaller application developers. Buy an existing popular application or integrate your brand message appropriately within the existing application.
Obviously this has less risk because you're associating your brand with an already popular application rather than conjuring up the next best thing.
Whatever your eventual strategy, one point is clear. Start thinking about it today.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!