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Make cash from Facebook

This article first appeared in issue 223 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

Monetising your fans on Facebook: everyone wants to do it. But time and time again I’m approached by brands who just don’t see how to make Facebook work for them. They’re disillusioned by inactivity on social media and sceptical they’ll ever see any return on their investment.

I ask them: “What exactly are you doing in this space?”. They respond: “Well ... we have a Facebook page.” I say: “Great start. What else are you doing?”. And they reply “We post updates from time to time”. Right – there’s work to do!

What “monetisation” on Facebook (and social media) really means is creating some sort of value – and the meaning of “value” can vary from brand to brand. It can be a direct increase in sales/revenue, the spread of brand awareness, fan acquisition, traffic driving, or something else.

Focusing your initiatives on fan acquisition, for example, can provide you with a “real-time” audience that has opted into receiving regular communications from you. But like everything else, fan acquisition has a cost: it takes time, a managed posting schedule, a trusted and relevant voice, relevant content, and above all, a human presence.

How much is a fan worth?

Not all brands will get the same desired results on Facebook. Depending on your services and products you should even consider whether it’s an appropriate channel to focus on.

That’s why ROI (return on investment) on Facebook is such a personal measurement. There have been quite a few reports exploring the mystery of a Facebook fan’s value (just Google ‘value of a Facebook fan’). Some say $3.60 a year, others $136.38, and there are some who estimate it a “zero”. The truth is somewhat blurry: the value of a fan is unique to the brand.

One of our clients, Top Gear, has more than nine million fans on its Facebook page, and Facebook is now the number one traffic driver to, generating substantial additional revenue.

But despite Top Gear’s fantastic and niche content, these huge fan numbers are not simply a result of organic community growth.

It’s because the Top Gear team implements a managed posting schedule and constantly runs branded (and sponsored) engagement apps such as competitions, quizzes and polls, all of which are instrumental in its fan growth and the spread of viral, branded messages.

Another big win is the ability to convert your fans and page likes into emails for your marketing and comms track.

Do you know who your fans are? Well, Facebook does, and a lot of our business centres around building apps which do just that: acquire data from Facebook.

Brands with large Facebook presences are putting a meaningful investment into their Facebook strategies, and those who spend are seeing results.

Facebook’s Credits is convenient for fans, but Facebook takes a 30 per cent commission

Facebook’s Credits is convenient for fans, but Facebook takes a 30 per cent commission

Building trust

For other brands, positioning themselves as a source of knowledge and a trustworthy voice is the key to acquiring new fans.

Offering valuable content, free advice and solutions is a great way to build meaningful connections with fans. It creates a larger audience more open to buying premium services or products.

The challenge for everyone is to find the delicate balance between dialogue and sale. A hard sell never works: selling goods that are not unique, or niche, or have no information value doesn’t work.

And people lose trust when they find out you have a vested interested in marketing to them. So monetising on Facebook is about understanding your audience and creating content that appeals to them. It’s more like “content curation”.

The Top Gear page has over eight million fans thanks to detailed planning and good content

The Top Gear page has over eight million fans thanks to detailed planning and good content

Where you have fans, sponsors will come. Your Facebook posts now have increased value. Your Facebook marketing apps – viral competitions, polls, quizzes – also have more value as you can start selling these as sponsored experiences. Be careful with sponsors, though: make sure choose them carefully and don’t alienate your fans.

We have two recent monetisation successes that use the Facebook Credits currency. For BBC Worldwide we worked on two Video on Demand projects: the Top Gear and Doctor Who Video on Demand portals for their respective Facebook pages.

At the time of writing, they have nine+ million and 1.3million fans respectively. For both brands, we designed and built a social video portal that enables users to purchase and watch (for 48 hours) full-length episodes of each programme using their Facebook Credits. It was an exciting proposition for fans within these brands’ passionate communities, and the new Facebook changes (Open Graph, for example) make it even easier to share and discover video content through the real-time newsfeed ticker.

Exclusive content

Two factors contributed to the success of these campaigns. First, a seamless, easy-to-use interface makes watching video a one-click experience. And for people with Facebook Credits, payment is a “frictionless” one-click process. Second, you can see what videos your friends have been watching. The Doctor Who community is passionate about the content so a big win was being able to source and distribute archive episodes dating back to the 60s.

Providing exclusive content such as competitions helps increase fan engagement

Providing exclusive content such as competitions helps increase fan engagement

So, the more exclusives and Facebook-only content you can give your fans, the better your page engagement, fan acquisition, and ultimately, sales. There’s no “one size fits all” solution, but nonetheless, good content + social features = fan interaction.

Here’s an interesting comment from Alix Hart, VP for online marketing at Synapse. He told AdAge: “Consumers don't want to leave where they are on the web, wherever they are. Facebook is a place where we think that over the coming year there are going to be more and more opportunities to present magazine offers in a really relevant way to consumers, as they're starting to share [magazine] content in a much deeper way than ever before.”

Quite true, although I would debate whether Facebook will ultimately become a destination for real content consumption. Facebook is more about promoting content rather than consuming it.

Users will consume content wherever it’s most accessible, user-friendly and digestible – even outside of Facebook. Facebook always was and remains about what your friends are doing, not about content or products. So what brands should be focused on is how to make meaningful connections with people.

In my experience of working on Facebook strategy and applications for broadcasters and publishers, consumers will go where they want. It’s less about your content, and more about your friends. For brands, Facebook is promotional tool whose users can pick and choose the promotions they want to receive. Where your content sits and how it works is up to you.

10 golden rules

  1. Acquire fans first
  2. Create and promote relevant content
  3. Solve problems; provide valuable information (for free!)
  4. Don’t hard sell
  5. Build trust, be honest
  6. Get sponsors (if you’ve got the fans)
  7. Drive people to your store by giving away free stuff
  8. Upsell premium services
  9. Promote regularly but don’t overdo it
  10. And don't forget: Facebook is about your friends, not about you