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Posted: March 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

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I attended a social media conference this week, as usual there was lots of infographics being used to help articulate all the number into creative representations.

Back in June 2009, the globe’s potpourri of social-networking sites was dazzlingly diverse: Google’s Orkut dominated India and Brazil; Central and South America preferred Hi5; Maktoob was king in the Arab world. The Vietnamese liked Zing, the Czechs loved Lidé, South Koreans surfed Cyworld. Fast-forward two years, and Facebook has stolen users away from its rivals at a blistering pace. It’s completely knocked Hi5 off the map in former strongholds such as Peru, Mexico, and Thailand. After a tense back-and-forth with Orkut in India, Facebook has emerged victorious. And it’s gaining steady ground in Armenia, Georgia, and the Netherlands, where local providers are making a desperate last stand.

There are some glaring exceptions to Facebook’s colonization kick. Russians continue to flock to VKontakte and Odnoklassniki, with Facebook a distant fourth in the rankings. China remains highly committed to domestic sites such as Qzone and Renren. But for the rest of us, we’re living in Zuckerberg’s

Starbucks celebrated its 40th anniversary this week by randomly awarding $40 gift cards to customers who check in using Foursquare.

The promotion is being used to gain coverage of their 40th anniversary but more importantly their new logo. An ad campaign promoting this also features some new products, including “Petite” pastries and Starbucks Tribute Blend coffee.

The giftcard promotion, which was only running in US, started yesterday morning giving 500 gift cards to those who check in to participating Starbucks locations and unlock a “Tribute Badge.” Consumers can also enter the drawing via e-mail.

In the UK the celebrations have been reflected in both social and traditional media, with door drops of Starbucks Via being sent out to all Tesco Clubcard holders (that have bought coffee in the last six weeks) and email blasts to their own loyalty card holders.

If you remember the last Foursquare promo the coffee juggernaut did you’ll recall the somewhat mixed results. (If not) A program last year awarded discounts to mayors of various stores, but some consumers complained that staff at the participating stores had no knowledge of the promo – Que angry Tweeple and fecked off Facebook fans.

To celebrate receiving their millionth Facebook fan. Heineken is returning the favour by giving their customers a ‘hug’.

The viral film, by AKQA, is named ‘One Million Hugs’ and features a group of Dutch female models visiting bars in Amsterdam and hugging male lager drinkers. The clip ends with the line “Thanks a million”.

Slightly cheating if you ask me but… They brought together multiple Facebook pages and created a single global page.

Floris Cobelens, manager of global digital media at Heineken, said: “While no one can claim today they are mastering the digital revolution, we at Heineken are ahead of the pack, behind a very steep learning curve, and a full-hearted commitment to capitalize on the opportunities new media offer.” – Not smug at all right?

Last month, Heineken rolled out a global ad campaign, by Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam, featuring a character who effortlessly navigates his way through social situations. The ad aims to emphasise Heineken’s premium lager positioning.

In December, the company announced plans to launch a Facebook store selling branded merchandise as part of its unified global marketing strategy.

Google has launched major updates to Social Search, integrating information from Twitter, Flickr and Quora throughout its search engine.

The search giant launched Social Search in 2009; the feature integrates search results from your friends at the bottom of the search page. It utilizes social profiles connected to your Google Account to deliver items like photo or blog results that come from your friends.

Google’s now making some prominent changes to Google Social Search, and it is announcing three new websites that will appear prominently in social search results. We had a chance to speak with Mike Cassidy, product management director for search, about the changes.

The first major change is that Google Social Search results will no longer appear only at the bottom of the page, but will instead be “blended” throughout the page. This is done through an annotation system that lets you know when a friend has shared a specific link or search result. If your friend writes a blog about how to create honey, that result will have an annotation that your friend has “shared this,” either via Google or through one of Google’s three major social integrations.

Want to get a social media conversation going? Then create a false controversy.

That’s the approach Toyota has taken for its new Prius line. To get the word out in social media circles, the automaker could have talked about the Prius V’s 50% increased trunk space or emphasized the line’s green credentials. Instead, the campaign focused on a grammatical debate over the plural of “Prius.”

The idea came about because there will now be a few different Prius models on the road, but it’s also an acknowledgment that after 10 years, most people know only basic facts about the Prius. “We really wanted to tap into the passion and enthusiasm of Prius owners,” says Kimberley Gardiner, national digital, marketing and social media manager for Toyota, who adds that the debate over the correct plural of Prius (Latin for “first”) is actually a topic that has come up among such owners.

To stoke the debate, Toyota and agency Saatchi & Saatchi released a web video yesterday that features a droll children’s song musing on the illogical forms of the plural in English. “There’s octopus to octopi, spiky cactus to cacti then how come when we multiply, platypus doesn’t become platypi?”

Other outreach includes a Facebook page where consumers can vote on their preferred plural (including “Prii,” “Prien” and “Prium”) and a “Prius goes Plural” promoted trend on Twitter (Twitter).

All this for a car that won’t hit showrooms for at least six months.

But Gardiner says that six months is about the time that consumers need to make their decision on a new car purchase. Social media, it turns out, can help that decision-making process. “It’s very reasonable, in fact it’s expected for [consumers] to have some early information about what’s coming out,” says Gardiner. “They don’t just want information, they want to know what their friends are saying.”

It’s a measure of Toyota’s confidence that it’s able to build a campaign around such a silly premise. A year ago, the company was grappling with product recalls that severely tarnished its stellar brand image. Time and the deft use of social media helped Toyota rebuild its image somewhat, but Ted Marzilli, senior vice president and global managing director of YouGov’s BrandIndex, says that Toyota’s buzz score before the recalls was 27, meaning that, averaging fans (+100) and detractors (-100), the brand had a fairly positive image. But after the recalls, the buzz score slipped to -55 and is now at 13, Marzilli says. (The BrandIndex is tabulated by polling 5,000 consumers a day online.) “They’ve come a long way back,” says Marzilli, “but since October of this year, their score has sort of flattened out.”

A campaign focused on a trivial topic is a good way to change the subject, especially given Toyota’s newfound appreciation for social media. It’s significant that Gardiner’s position is a new one. She also expects future Toyota campaigns — the next one is for Camry — to lean heavily on social media. “One thing we’ve learned is that you have to be open and have more transparency,” says Gardiner.

And by the way, Gardiner says the preferred plural of Prius in-house is “Priuses.”

Like many other big brands, Starbucks has incorporated social media into its multichannel marketing initiatives. It seems the move is paying off for the international coffee house, with recent reports from the digital measurement firm General Sentiment indicating that Starbucks’ social media exposure is worth the equivalent of a $67.8 million media buy.

Starbucks

As MediaPost notes, the firm uses a technology platform to track the volume of brand mentions and sentiments expressed. It is then able convert these numbers into the equivalent of media buys, enabling General Sentiment to determine how much a company’s social media campaigns are worth.

“[Starbucks] drew exceptionally high levels of exposure in the fall quarter, driven by news coverage and social media/Twitter discussion of developments such as its legal dispute over retail products distribution with Kraft Foods and its expansion moves in China,” General Sentiment CEO Gregory Artzt told MediaPost.

Part of the reason Starbucks’ social media marketing campaigns are so successful is the wide follower base they reach. The coffee brand has more than 18 million Facebook fans and nearly 2 million Twitter followers.

Twitter has revamped its Business Center, providing a wealth of tips and advice on how to grow your presence on Twitter, integrate its API into your website and use the various available widgets and resources.

The most interesting part of the new Business Center is definitely the advertising section, which is now open to everyone and includes a form that lets businesses express their interest in Promoted Tweets, Trends or Products.

The form lets you set an estimated monthly budget ranging from under $10,000 to as high as $100,000+. Forget about buying cheap, Adwords-like campaigns: this thing is obviously aimed at businesses or (optionally) non-profit organizations.

Unfortunately, Twitter’s new advertising center still isn’t a turn-key solution for buying ads on Twitter. Since promoted tweets and trends are still in beta and available to a small number of advertisers, the new form doesn’t let you actually buy these products, it merely puts you on Twitter’s radar as an interested party.

The fact that the form, once completed, only yields a “page not found” error further proves that Twitter is just testing the waters with this feature.

However, it’s not too hard to guess in which direction Twitter is heading. The future in which business (and maybe even individuals) will be able to easily purchase Promoted Tweets or Trends on Twitter – just like purchasing Facebook or Google Adwords ads – seems just around the corner.

Ad spending on social gaming increased 60% since 2009, according to eMarketer. No doubt advertisers have noticed that 56 million Americans are playing social games and that the branded virtual goods market is booming. But more than just social gaming’s growing popularity has gotten attention from advertisers. Social games also represent an environment that is largely conducive to advertising.

“Media buyers and advertisers are recognizing that this is what they want,” explained Robert Tomkinson, Playfish’s senior director of global marketing. “What they want is massive reach, they want targeting, they want performance. And you can have all of these by forming branding opportunities in the right way.”

Tomkinson and other leaders in the social gaming industry recently spoke at the Social Gaming Summit about the huge opportunity that social games represent for brands. Here are five reasons they gave for why social game advertising is a growing success:


1. Advertising in Games Is About Engagement, Not Eyeballs


blueberries

Back in July players of the the most popular Facebook social game, FarmVille, had for the first time an option to plant a specific branded crop — Cascadian Farm blueberries — on their virtual farms. In more than 500 million cases, players chose to purchase and plant the branded blueberries instead of something else. According to Zynga, unaided brand awareness increased 550% as a result.

Volvo, H&M and MTV Networks have also experimented with branded virtual goods that users can choose to purchase or acquire through interaction with the brand.

Another common strategy for brands in social games is an “offer wall” inside of many games. Brands can exchange virtual rewards for engagement, like taking a survey or watching a video about a new product.

“In both cases you’re actually engaging with the brand,” explained Peter Wexler, the director of strategic partnerships for transactional advertising platform TrialPay. “This is different than in traditional ads within TV and print and on the side of the bus that flies by on Eighth Avenue. That’s all sort of eyeballs, so how many eyeballs do I have on a magazine, on a paper… you can vary on actual engagement.”


2. Social Games Reach the Facebook Audience


Facebook

When online, the average American spends more time on Facebook than on Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Microsoft, Wikipedia and Amazon combined. A significant part of that interaction includes social games, making them an ideal alternative to display ads for advertisers who want to reach Facebook’s giant, 500 million-person user base.

“If you talk to advertisers, and you talk to them about Facebook, every single one of them, whether it’s an agency or the brand, they’re all extremely interested in participating in the Facebook platform,” explained Wexler during his presentation. “And most of them are pretty unsure of how to effectively do that… this is where consumers are available.”


3. Some Games Have Bigger Audiences Than Prime Time TV


PrimeTime

Advertising in social games might not be solely about eyeballs, but there are definitely a critical mass of people who are playing them. About about 30 million players per day play the most popular social game, FarmVille. The most popular prime time television show last week, Dancing With the Stars, had about 24 million viewers.

Social gaming is becoming just as accessible, if not more accessible, than television. While most gaming platforms in the past have required expensive consoles and other barriers to entry, most social games are free to play.

“[The] iPhone put a gaming device in everybody’s pocket and massively expanded the market,” explained Tomkinson during his presentation. “And of course, free-to-play social games massively expand the market to bigger than all the console games combined. This is something that anybody can use.”

In addition to broaching television’s audience size, social games are also broadening the niche that is often associated with gaming. Most games are fairly easy to learn. Zynga game tutorials, for instances, are shorter than three minutes.

Zynga’s director of brand advertising Manny Anekal said in a presentation that he hates the term “social games” because the experiences that his company creates are “just fun with your family friends. Simple as that.” Being such, social games can easily reach demographics far beyond the typical “gamer” profile.


4. Advertising With Social Games Isn’t Restricted to Virtual


Green_Giant

The branding potentials for social games need not remain online. About six months ago, 7-Eleven straddled the space between virtual and physical worlds by tying products like iced coffee and slurpees with FarmVille Games. When a customer bought a promoted product, he or she was directed to perform a task in the game to unlock a 7-Eleven virtual good.

The campaign ran in 7,000 stores for six weeks. The branded ice cream surpassed the brand’s sales forecast within the first week. More than 3 million codes were redeemed, and water had a 60% redemption rate.

Green Giant also explored the space in between virtual games and the physical world by giving away FarmVille Cash with select produce purchases.


5. Brands Can Be Part of the Experience


Old_Navy

In “virtual world” games, brands can do more than hang out on billboards (though that is an option, too). They can become part of the game.

One way brands have done this is to add an element to the gameplay itself. When State Farm Insurance branded a blimp in the FarmVille game, for instance, players who chose to put it on their farms had their crops protected during the 10 days of the promotion. The branded blimp continued to float over their farms even after the promotion was over.

Another way brands become part of the experience is by adding an interactive component to the landscape. On Black Friday, Old Navy launched a virtual store in CrowdStar’s social game, It Girl. Players could purchase Old Navy virtual clothing or gift it to their friends. The virtual store displayed real-world offers, and players could also complete quests that would earn them virtual currency.

“They’ve very much integrated their brand into the game experience,” Wexler said about the integration. “It’s not so much about transactions and direct revenue for Old Navy in this situation, it’s about putting the brand in front of their customer base.”


6. Brands Can Reward Players for Interacting With Them


Playfish_offer_wall

Purchasing the State Farm Insurance blimp gave FarmVille players protection, completing quests in the virtual Old Navy store gives CrowdStar players virtual currency, and watching videos or taking surveys on offer walls will earn virtual currency or goods. In some cases, players can choose between paying to play or engaging with a brand in order to play a game for free.

“The player gets the reward by interacting with the brand. This isn’t about showcasing, it’s about engagement,” Wexler explained during his presentation. “And that’s the value to advertisers.”

Well, that was fast! The new Facebook Profile Pages are now available to try out — Facebook has just heralded their arrival via Twitter, mere hours before founder Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance on 60 Minutes.

People were expecting the new Pages to go live tomorrow, but it seems they’re up and running now. Simply click on Facebook’s announcement to activate yours and check out all the new features, including revamped personal info, more prominent pictures, top interests showcased as images, more descriptive relationships and more.

Check out Facebook’s video and Mashable’s walkthrough below: