by Todd Wasserman
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Facebook looks completely different than it did a year ago, so it shouldn’t be surprising that marketing on the social network has also changed a great deal.
The biggest difference is Timeline, the photo-heavy redesign that Facebook herded brands into in March. Though there have been conflicting reports about Timeline’s effect on brand engagement, marketers are realizing that Timeline may not be more effective — but it definitely is different.
However, Timeline’s not the only catalyst for the changing marketing ecosystem on Facebook. Another is Facebook’s financial situation: We all know the company is under huge pressure from Wall Street to figure out a winning formula for advertising on the platform. The other big trend is driven by how advertisers view Facebook. With about 133 million users in the U.S., the social network has a potential audience bigger than the Super Bowl’s. Though GM has punctured Facebook’s air of inevitability, most advertisers haven’t lost faith enough to drop advertising on the platform wholesale.
The combination of influences has ushered in the following trends.
1. More, Bigger Photos
The success of Pinterest has prompted more emphasis on photos and may be a big influence in Timeline’s design. But consumers are adapting to a more visual web as well. Simply Measured, an analytics firm that measures brand performance on Facebook, found a 65% aggregate jump in engagement for photos and videos that brands posted on their Pages after Timeline. However, engagement for photo-less status updates fell over the same period.
Since Simply Measured looked at just 15 brands, you can take its findings with a grain of salt. However, a Facebook rep confirmed the trend: “Our research shows that posting photos and videos is significantly predictive of shares, comments and likes.”
Adam Schoenfeld, CEO of Simply Measured, says the trend towards more emphasis on photos is happening on Google+ as well. “Intuitively, it makes sense,” says Schoenfeld. “Pinterest is hot right now, and content presentation can be really powerful.”
One believer in the power of photos is Sprinkles Cupcakes, which regularly posts images on its Facebook Page. (The image above is of former Lois & Clark star Dean Cain using a Sprinkles cupcake ATM.) Nicole Schwartz, head of marketing and social media for Sprinkles, says while photos do better than text-only posts, “photos with a call to action (submit a photo to be entered into the Cupcake ATM photo contest) or special offer (whisper a special word for a free cupcake) receive triple the number of likes, shares and comments.”
2. Tapping Real-Time Data
The standard advertising model is that you release a campaign, then measure the results at some point to determine whether the ads are working. Facebook’s latest engagement metrics offer immediate visibility on your campaign’s success. Some brands are capitalizing on this by amplifying popular posts.
For instance, on April 17 — Tax Day — TurboTax saw certain posts that answered common questions about filing doing well on Facebook’s “People Talking About This” (PTAT) metric. In response, the brand bought advertising via Facebook that amplified the reach of those posts.
TurboTax may be ahead of the curve: Schoenfeld says that most brands are monitoring their Facebook activity on a daily or weekly basis, but doing so in real-time is still fairly rare.
3. Using Your Timeline Photo for Marketing
Some brands have realized that that huge photo at the top of the Timeline design can be a banner ad of sorts. For instance, Subway is using that real estate to promote its new Smokehouse BBQ Chicken sandwich. The image provides instant exposure to the brand’s 13 million fans.
In addition to using the lead photo to tout a new product, some are using the space to enhance posts or promotions. For instance, Tide used the image for a giant status update, asking fans to click on the image of a flag to answer the question, “What does the red, white & blue mean to you?”
4. Gamification of Posts
If you’re looking for a brand to emulate on Facebook, you might start with Coca-Cola, which is one of the most-followed brands on the platform. Recently, Coke has been trying some different things with its status updates, including URL riddles and the pictogram above.
Coke’s not the only one to realize that status updates can be used to do more than, well, update your status: JetBlue has also been employing gamification in the form of “Fill in the Blank” updates. For instance, a March 26 post by the brand asked, “If your city could be any district, it would be ____. May be the odds be ever in your favor!”
According to Simply Measured, JetBlue’s fill-in-the-blank updates garnered 182% more comments per post than the brand’s typical post. However, FITB posts, as they’re known, aren’t great for driving shares and Likes.
5. Creatively Saying ‘Thank You’
Singling out fans and giving them praise is Social Media 101, but a couple of marketers have discovered that if you do so in a creative way, you can entertain the 99.9% of other fans who would not be very interested in such a post. Kraft Mac & Cheese appears to be the first to realize this. In April, the brand thanked 4,800 fans who “liked” a recent post with a 7-minute tune that name-checked every single one of them. The following month, AT&T churned out 500 videos thanking fans individually for helping the brand reach its 2 million fans milestone.