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Social Media are like a town square. A place that people frequent every day in order to meet with their friends. To share their news and exchange opinions about issues that matter to them. To learn about new things their friends like and suggest. Even to make new friends.
So what is the role of brands in that square? How do they fit in a place where real people talk mostly about themselves?
You could imagine brand properties in Social Media, as info-kiosks, set up in the town square. Kiosks that mostly provide information about brands, their products and their services, without actually selling them.
These kiosks might be full of advertising material and promotional leaflets. They might have registration forms for people interested in receiving news from the brand. And they usually let people in the square come into contact with brand representatives, to post questions and other inquiries. We usually call these info-kiosks “Facebook brand pages”!
And what brands mostly want to do in the “square” with their “info-kiosks” is to create big crowds around them, interested in what they advertise. They want to create buzz, and have more people coming in.
So what are the most usual ways they go about it?
Brands like to set up sweepstakes contests in their info-kiosks. They put big signs announcing the prizes, and hope that a big queue of people will form outside, all wanting to participate.
But even after people participate, they quickly go back to the conversation they were having with their friends in the square, since that is the real reason they came to the square for in the first place…
Some brands believe that, if they fill their info-kiosks with interesting and relevant content, people will stay longer and consume it.
But while this strategy will keep some people coming back for more, it’ll only work for users already interested in a particular subject or brand, and won’t easily create buzz in the square, and massively bring new people to the info-kiosk.
Other brands prefer to stand for a cause, and call people who share the same beliefs to sign the cause and support it. Their pages act not unlike the kiosks political parties set up in squares in order to attract potential voters.
Brands could support issues ranging from ecology and human rights, down to the beauty of people with round curves, or support people who love dogs and cats! If you believe the cause, you sign up for the brand that supports it. But again, not everyone believes in the same things, so this strategy cannot usually create big buzz in the square.
So what could create buzz?
There are brands that treat their info-kiosks like attractions in an amusement park! Magical experiences that people go in with excitement and walk out in amazement.
Here we have the kind of experiences you cannot wait to talk about with your friends at the square, and urge them not to miss them. The kind of experiences that leave you with a smile on your face, and perhaps a souvenir that all in the square can see from afar, and ask where you got it from.
We call these experiences viral Facebook applications!
Three steps in designing Facebook applications that create maximum buzz.
A. Use a gimmick
Similar to how funhouses used “magic mirrors” and other tricks to amaze people, a Facebook app should leverage technology and employ a gimmick that is innovative and exciting for people to use. The gimmick should be reason enough for users to play with the app and see the results.
You could, for example, run a “Social Life Audit” like Ultimat Vodka did, using image and facial recognition, plus analyzing the number of friends of the opposite sex a user has, or how many bars they’ve checked, in order to post a score about how social they are, and urge them to go out and have a real “social” life!
Or, you could let people automatically create funny dance videos after recording themselves, using the magical “Autodance iPhone app” and posting those videos on Facebook, in order to promote the release of the “Just Dance 3″ video game.
B. Make users part of the story
Instead of urging people to simply share your content, you should prepare branded stories in which users could become the protagonists . Your applications should become templates for people to express themselves in exciting new ways.
Only then can users keep on doing what they came to the “square” to do: To talk about themselves in front of their friends.
So you could, for example, create an experience that is literally devoted to each user, like Intel did with “The Museum of Me,” promoting their technology that makes it possible for each one to showcase exhibits of their social life.
Or you could produce a mini-movie featuring a hot attorney named Kent Wesley, presenting your “case” in court, towards one of your Facebook friends, about how much you deserve a new 4G smartphone from AT&T.
C. Enhance with Social Connections.
For maximum effect and reach, you should build the audience of your experience to include not only the original participant, but as many of their friends as possible! That way, your messages will reach far more people at the same time and spread more virally.
Burger King was the first to do this, with their infamous “Burger Sacrifice” app, that promised a coupon for a free hamburger if participants deleted 10 people from their Facebook friends list. Notifications went out massively, each time a user deleted his friends, forcing Facebook to stop the app in its tracks.
On the other hand, Lacta chocolate in Greece, helped people publicly express their love on Facebook. An application let users write the names of their loved ones on a chocolate bar, in place of the brand name and then post the image on their friend’s Facebook wall, comparing them to Lacta’s sweet taste!
Making people talk about your brand
The above applications, and many more, managed to create big buzz in the “square” by enabling people to do what they naturally like to do in Social Media: To express themselves…
Thus, you can also make users talk about your brand, by having them talk about themselves!