Tarana Khan

Marketers make a beeline for Facebook

Indian brands are seriously looking at communicating with audiences on Facebook as a powerful tool to build brand connect, and a host of initiatives are in the works

If you think Facebook is just about poking and punching other people, think again. Smart marketers are seeing the potential in the fast-growing social media site, and are taking advantage of the fact that Facebook allows outsiders to create applications for the site. These applications can be added to any member's profile and perform various functions from sending a video to a friend, playing scrabble or even having a food fight. Already, companies and brands like XBox, Red Bull, Trip Advisor and 'The New York Times' have their applications on the site. You can even find an 'Obama for 2008' application for the US Presidential election candidate! As the Facebook phenomenon catches on in India, brands have another outlet to engage with their audience proactively, and marketers here are beginning to get interested.

Marketers make a beeline for Facebook
Most Facebook applications are usually designed to have some connect with the brand itself. Energy drink Red Bull, for instance, has its own version of the rock-paper-scissors game and has 7,800 daily active users. Similarly, travel portal Trip Advisor has an application where members can mark out the cities they have visited around the world – it has a whopping 130,000 active daily users.
Marketers make a beeline for Facebook
The Trip Advisor application
While a Facebook application may not be on the top of the list for many Indian advertisers, some brands and agencies are willing to experiment. And going by the buzz in agencies, it’s clear that these are not small brands. In fact, this looks like the beginning of a Facebook rush.

Many are just looking for a brand presence. Quasar Media, the digital agency of Smile Interactive Technologies Group (SITG), is developing an application for Zoomtra, a travel fare search engine where members will be able to check out fares instantly. CP Singh, chief technology officer, SITG, says that the agency is “developing Facebook applications for a few clients, including some mobile companies.” Quasar has recently started social media advertising services to clients, which includes corporate blogging, reputation management and applications similar to those on Facebook.

OgilvyOne’s digital division is also ready to roll out Facebook applications for brands and is in talks with some of them to take the plunge. Prasanth Mohanachandran, executive director, digital services, O&M, says, “Branded content is an engaging way to connect with customers. Facebook is one of those platforms that allow you to create branded content and experiment.” O&M even offers brands a service where they can track what is being said about them in social media. “Listening to these conversations also helps us develop better creatives,” remarks Mohanachandran.

Of course, experimentation is the operative word here as brands are wary of getting on to social media. Leroy Alvares, country head of digital agency Tribal DDB India, says, “We are considering it (creating applications) but Facebook is relatively new in India. However, there is an interest in the social networking scene among marketers.” Alvares makes another interesting revelation, “At our agency, we use Facebook more from a recruitment point of view. It is a platform where we can find people who connect with the medium.”

Some companies have individually cracked a business model around the social networking site. For instance, Nautanki.tv, the online video feeds service, which pays websites for hosting its ads, has created its own application. The company’s CEO and co-founder, Sunil R Nair, says, “The Facebook application was part of our strategy to get on to communities and provide video content, letting members monetise the traffic. It also makes sense because it gives us access to the member’s demographic profile, including location, age and interests.”

Nair also feels that the application is a better deal for its advertisers. “Banner advertising is wasted. If you want to connect with the youth, this is a more interesting option,” he says. Nautanki’s application was launched more than a week ago and has 19 daily active users, according to Facebook.

Another company that is offering Facebook members a chance to earn money is Techtribe, which is a knowledge jobs community based on a referral system that pays members. Rohit Agarwal, CEO of Techtribe, says, “The idea is to leverage the potential of Facebook through a personalised application, which shows you only the jobs that are of interest to you. It also helps that there are more professional users on Facebook than, say Orkut.” Agarwal does not think having a Facebook application would have much impact on the site’s traffic as long as the application provides “value addition”.

Considering that Facebook is open territory for anyone to experiment in, marketers could do well to use this opportunity to reach out to customers for next to nothing. Skeptics may relegate Facebook and other social media sites to just another fad, but some believe this may well be where the next battle of the brands will be played out. Watch this space for more.