Fans Grow on Farms

FarmVille Ghost ChilliFarmville by Idlepines via Flickr

Originally published in MediaPost's Social Media Insider

What would a brand need to give you to become a fan of their page
on Facebook? A free hamburger? A pair of underwear? Virtual cash to support
your virtual farm?

These are all real examples. T.G.I. Friday's gave out the burgers
in September 2009. Victoria's Secret first gave away panties in June 2009, and
then it offered fans two pairs of underwear in September to celebrate getting 2
million fans. Just last week, Microsoft ponied up (pun intended) 3 Farm Cash,
the virtual currency of Facebook's leading application FarmVille, to players
who became a fan of Bing.

On the surface, it works. Bing grew its fan count from over
100,000 to over 500,000 overnight with the one-day promotion March 2, and it
now has 593,000 fans, indicating continued residual growth. By comparison,
Google has 529,000 fans. Microsoft's Bing only needs another 18,000 fans to
overtake Chandler Bing (of "Friends" fame), and the page is now far
more popular than "I
just realized that Bing stands for ‘Because Its Not Google'
" with its
258,000 fans. So it was successful, right?

This is the question marketers need to ask. Was it a success? And
then you can break it down further – in what ways was it successful, and in
what ways wasn't it? I haven't seen the press tackle these questions. Even a story
yesterday from Silicon Alley Insider
, a publication that makes a sport of
ripping into large tech and media companies, treated it with kid gloves.

There are several reasons Microsoft should celebrate:

1) The creative in FarmVille was beautiful, showing a massive farm
with Bing's logo, instantly visible in the game.

2) Zynga, the company behind FarmVille, made it relevant for its
audience, with a prominent call to "become a fan," and then the hook
to "get fun FarmVille tips on Bing now."

3) Microsoft "owns" these fans now. It can directly
communicate with nearly 500,000 more people than it could at the start of last
week. That's tremendous.

4) Microsoft has cash to burn. When you're sitting on billions of
dollars, paying a few million bucks for this kind of promotion might be a
relatively good use of ad spending. The cost of this promotion wasn't disclosed
and I know it wasn't anywhere near that ballpark, but the one-day spend
undoubtedly trumped what most marketers spend on social media in a year.

5) The press value alone probably helped with some of the
incremental fan gains, and its public relations team can add the media love to
their clip files. In this bizarre world where Microsoft is the David to
Google's Goliath (or "The Hurt Locker" to their "Avatar"),
it's going to get the ink.

Yet the promotion's hardly perfect. There are several reasons why
this might not be the best use of marketing dollars:

1) Die-hard fans will do anything for virtual cash. Zynga games
often have two kinds of currency: the kind you earn by playing the game and the
even more special currency you have to pay for. There are items and other
in-game boosts you can only get with that special currency. As a Mafia Wars
player for about a year now, I'd become a fan of Stalin for Godfather points.
Getting FarmVille players to become a fan of an innocuous brand like Bing is a
cinch when you're dangling Farm Cash. Without a doubt, these same people would
become a fan of Google, Yahoo, Apple, the Burlington Chamber of Commerce, hedge
funds, or the Senate's latest version of health care legislation (hey, Obama,
you might want to try that). It doesn't mean they're fans.

2) A week later, the vast majority of comments from fans on Bing's
page are still about FarmVille. Consider the latest post from Bing about a maps
app
. The first ten comments are mostly relevant, though largely negative.
And then the FarmVille comments come: "I just joined this group for the
FV$." "I got my 3 FV dollars – and what other search engine offers
you anything? So thank you to Bing!" "My son got his fv cash, but I
didn't."Its wall is also full of fan posts such as, "Need some
farmcash ASAP thanks in advance." These will drop off in time, but it's
doubtful that these FarmVille players will ever contribute meaningfully to Bing's
Facebook presence.

3) Another way to look at engagement is by the number of people
who "like" a post. Bing's two official Facebook updates since the
FarmVille promotion garnered about 150 likes. Bing's post about the FarmVille
campaign garnered 1,280 likes. And before that? It's a mixed bag. A post about
someone from Bing riding a mechanical bull in Dallas got 325 likes – and that
was when it had 117,000 fans, according
to All Facebook
. Typically, posts netted around 50 to 100 likes – and
occasionally far more, such as a Christmas update with 222 likes. Microsoft
will have to figure out what resonates with the new crop of Bing fans now that
they're overwhelmingly FarmVille fans too (do they search for virtual animal
husbandry?). Or perhaps Bing will fare better letting that FarmVille contingent
remain a fallow fan field, while continuing to reap the fruit of the organic
Bing fans.

All in all, size only matters so much. Bing could have had a
successful page with 10,000 fans if they were passionate users who could spread
Microsoft's messaging further, or Bing could buy 10 million fans that give
Microsoft nothing but bragging rights.

My final recommendation: next time, run the promotion in Mafia
Wars for 100 Godfather points, and I'll be Bing's biggest fan in the whole wide
world. Burlington Chamber of Commerce, that goes for you too.  

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7 thoughts on “Fans Grow on Farms

  1. Not sure any activity that results in any company ‘owning’ consumers is a good thing… (point 3 of reasons to celebrate). Obviously this is marketing speak (and I’m sure I’ve used it before), but it is indicative of the wrong mentality for modern marketers.
    On a more directly related note, my feel is that some communications need to be a mix of this type of scatter gun marketing (hit any old target anyhow and hope to wing it) alongside more deep, meaningful communications with passionate and valuable consumers. Its often not so useful to examine one part of a communication – and this undoubtedly was part of a broader effort to drive Bing on.

  2. Totally with you – the Facebook platform allows for some different functionality than email (and not always superior) and the concept is similar, right down to the opt-in.

  3. I just think that this is like buying email lists (stay with me), if there is a plan to engage these fans in increasingly Bing relevant ways then it could be useful. If there is no plan, then the updates from Bing will be percieved like spam and subsequently irrelevant to the ‘fans’. Any brand can get fans, even Stalin, it’s about how you communicate with them once they are there, no?

  4. Dave,
    Another great article!! Shared with my Peeps client too. I look forward to finally connecting live at SXSW.

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