The One Feature Facebook Needs to Create the Killer Marketing App

Article first published as The One Feature Facebook Needs to Create the Killer Marketing App on Technorati.

Facebook has the potential to become the “marketing platform of the decade” used by all types of organizations (e.g., small business, enterprise, non-profits) to engage their customers:

  1. At over 800 million members, it has the widest reach of any network in history (i.e., nearly all of your customers are on Facebook). Facebook Connect lets you tap this network in one click.
  2. Just as important, Facebook has become ubiquitous in people’s lives. Uses spend more time on Facebook than the next four most popular domains combined (i.e., Facebook is the fastest way to share a message with your customers).
  3. Best of all, the network effect of Facebook incentivizes people to use true information for identification (i.e., Facebook combines the accuracy of “traditional” paid subscription direct marketing data with the timeliness of online interaction.)
  4. Finally, Facebook provides organizations easy-to-use tools to set up pages, access customer data, and analyze trends (tools good enough to potentially displace many enterprise solutions for campaign management and CRM analytics).

The One Feature Holding Back Marketing Platform Dominance

This four-way combination should make Facebook the dominant marketing platform – for small businesses, large enterprises, and non-profits alike. However, Facebook lacks one critical feature to achieve this: providing business customers the ability to geographically target (“geo-target”) ‘Wall’ content (news, videos, status updates, etc.). As a result, businesses using Facebook Pages to reach customers are forced to select from three Hobson’s Choices: 1) spam customers with irrelevant content, 2) reduce content to the least common denominator or 3) fragment their membership across multiple pages. Let’s look at three examples:

1) Large Business Example: International High-end Grocery Chain

A particular high-end grocery chain (I frequent almost daily) makes extensive use of Facebook for customer outreach. However, their stores have different inter-regional needs (based on climate and culture) and intra-regional needs (based on inventory). To manage this, this company uses dozens of different Facebook Pages: one at each country level and one for each individual store. This significantly fragments their reach as their customers are forced to locate and ‘Like’ many different pages (something annoying at best and unlikely to occur at worst).

2) Small Business Example: Specialty Recruiting Firm

A colleague of mine runs a small specialty recruiting firm for the software industry that connects companies and candidates at two levels: he shares job postings to attract candidates and he shares candidate credentials to attract companies. He does this nationally, across many metropolitan markets. To manage this in Facebook, he has to share all information with all fans, forcing him to span customers with data that more often-than-not does not interest them. As a result, many of his fans have ‘hidden’ his feeds, making Facebook less useful to his business and his customers.

3) Non-Profit Example: Nationwide Animal Rescue Organization

I used to be a ‘Fan’ of a nation-wide animal rescue group that uses social media to call animal-lovers to help animals in desperate need. However, nearly all of this assistance is local (e.g., can someone foster this cute dog in ‘City X’ before in the next 48 hours before it is put to sleep?) As a non-profit, the organization does not have the resources to manage separate Facebook Pages for each metro area. As a result, they send appeals to help for every animal in every location to every Fan. This presents Fans the choice of being bombarded with animals they cannot help (incredibly disheartening) or hiding the feed (inhibiting the organization’s mission).

Geo-targeting is the Answer

Allowing Business Pages to geo-target Wall posts would solve the problems all three of these organizations are facing:

  • Customers of the high-end grocery chain would be able access to global, regional, and local information (for every nearby store) by just following one page.
  • The owner of the recruiting firm could target candidates and job offers by geography, something of growing importance in today’s harder relocation market.
  • The non-profit would be able to offer those who animals the ability to provide urgent help without feeling “guilty” about circumstances they are powerless to change.

The changes enabled by geo-targeting are not trivial; they are transformational. They turn a flood of mostly-irrelevant noise into tailored stream of highly pertinent information. Customers are more likely to read updates (instead of ‘Hiding’ them), leading to higher engagement (and sales). Even better, the benefits of geo-targeting grow as more organizations use them: customers are bombarded with less noise from each page, making them both happier and more likely to read the Wall Posts of many Business Pages. (It is not surprising that the use of Geo-targeting on social networks creates positive externalities, thanks to network effects.)

This may sound like hyperbole, but there is a precedent for it: Internet advertising. Before the rise of context-targeted advertising, Internet companies bombarded users with display, popup and pop-under adverts to drive as much display inventory revenue as possible. It took companies like Google to show that reducing how much you showed customers (based on location and behavior) would actually increase engagement (and revenue). Facebook has the opportunity to take this to an entirely new level, leveraging their power of their Wall and their real-time access to highly accurate demographic and location data.

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