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Facebook CTO Bret Taylor has said that a lot of the company’s focus this year will be on mobile. When Facebook declares an intention in any direction, people take notice, but for marketers, this may mean that 2011 is the “year of mobile,” a designation that has been tossed around every year since 2006 or so.
It’s unthinkable for a marketer to ignore Facebook, but that said, there are a lot of mysteries and frustrations around the platform. Display ads don’t perform very well there, for instance, and a lot of consumer data is kept under wraps. Facebook’s mobile operations are even harder to get a handle on. The company’s mobile app, for instance, doesn’t at the moment provide any opportunities for advertisers through traditional venues, such as display ads.
But things are changing. Eyeing Groupon, Facebook recently expanded its Facebook Deals platform to include local deals in at least six cities. Facebook Places hasn’t been used much by marketers yet, but that could also change. Here are three big potential growth areas for Facebook’s mobile operations this year and some ways that marketers have already capitalized on them.
1. Mobile Friendcasting
Last November, Constellation Wines worked with mobile marketing firm Augme Technologies for a program that offered consumers a mobile site accessible via a 2D barcode or a text message. The site, which offered a party-planning calculator and suggested food and wine pairings, among other features, was designed for consumers who were out at liquor stores looking for a wine to bring home or to a holiday party.
One viral aspect of the effort was a feature that let those users share their purchasing decisions with their Facebook friends. David Apple, the CMO of Augme, predicts that such sharing will become easier this year as Facebook attempts to get retailers to register for Facebook Places. Doing so, Apple says, is going to “allow general grocers like Safeway and Kroger to create on-the-fly inventory deals.”
That would also mean that the deals will be broadcasted across Facebook, opening up a new form of advertising: Mobile to Facebook. Another marketer that sees potential in mobile-to-Facebook is ABC, which is using MMS video messages, distributed every Wednesday, to publicize its new show Happy Endings. Users who get the messages also automatically post them to their Facebook wall. The network is hoping the Wednesday distribution will encourage tune-ins. In this case, the salient aspect about texting is not the ability to reach a consumer in a given location, but the fact that consumers are generally more responsive in real-time to texts than emails.
The combination of location-awareness and time-sensitive deals opens up a whole new area of mobile marketing for Facebook. Facebook got into the market when it introduced Deals as part of its Places service last November, and expanded it in March with Groupon-like deals specific to each city. (The pilot launch is in Atlanta, Dallas, San Diego, San Francisco and Austin, Texas.)
The expansion of Deals, in theory at least, gives retailers more incentive to register with Places. Imagine the following scenario, for instance: A consumer with 150 Facebook friends cashes in on a deal at Kroger, which automatically sends out a status update on her account describing the deal. Assuming 10 friends are shopping nearby that day and checking the Facebook app on their mobile phones, that’s potentially 10 more customers than Kroger might have had if not for the Facebook-broadcasted deal.
Jamie Tedford, CEO of Brand Networks, predicts that a lot of brands will begin exploiting the possibilities of Places in earnest this year. “We will see more marketers building games and promotions on top of the Facebook Places platform delivering ‘check in to win’ and loyalty points as reward for checking in and broadcasting their location,” he says, noting that his firm did something along those lines recently with JetBlue.
3. Phoneless Checkins
Since Facebook is so pervasive, it’s easy to see a day where consumers can access the social network by means other than a computer or mobile phone. For instance, under a program at the Coca-Cola Amusement Park in Israel last summer, visitors were able to update their Facebook statuses via their RFID-enabled bracelets. (See video below.) According to All Facebook, the program netted more than 35,000 updates each day of the program even though the village only hosts 650 teens at a time. Similarly, Vail Resorts last fall launched a platform where skiers could post the amount of vertical feet they traveled on their Facebook profiles. In another program, running shoe brand Asics let friends and family members send individualized messages to runners in the New York Marathon via Facebook. When a runner’s tag was recognized by an RFID reader, the message ran on a video screen.
Mark Roberti, editor of RFID Journal, says phoneless checkins make sense at waterparks or skiing resorts where people might decide to leave their phones behind, but also at an event where connectivity might be a problem. Though he thinks it will take a while for the technology to go mainstream, he says that it opens up a lot of possibilities. “As marketers learn about it, they’re going to find new and interesting ways to use it,” he says of RFID Facebook checkins.