Marketing on Facebook: Interview with Rodney Rumford (Summer 2008)

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while covering the recent Online Marketing Summit, one of our conference correspondents, Grant Crowell, had a chance to talk to Rodney Rumford, CEO and founder of FaceReviews and Gravitational Media. Rodney was speaking at the “Marketing Strategies for Your Brand in Facebook” panel, and Grant discussed the issue of Facebook marketing with him in more detail.

Grant: Much has been written about Facebook, but for now, let’s talk about the business perspective of Facebook. How can people associate a popular social media space with being a part of their business strategy?

Rodney: You have to first look at where your target audience is. Are they on Facebook? Most people just say: “Facebook? That’s just for college kids.” But the demographic of Facebook is actually aging up significantly. The fastest growing demographic is 34-plus years old.

What businesses need to do is look at how they can engage that audience and create a way to engage, whether it’s a Facebook fan page, a sponsored page, a group, or an application. These are all different ways to communicate and give yourself better visibility – not only within the ecosystem of Facebook, but outside of that, from an organic search/SEO perspective.

Grant: The latest comScore stats show that Facebook received 109 million search queries for January 2008 – a 6% growth over the previous month. Comparing that to MySpace, which still the larger social space online (with over 376 search queries), are you suggesting that Facebook has more business potential than MySpace?

Rodney: As a blanket statement and for the long term, I would say yes. If you’re just looking at pure page views, MySpace has more opportunities there. But if you look at the framework and user interface of Facebook; it’s very utilitarian.

The best analogy I can draw is that Facebook is calm and smooth, and MySpace is anarchy and chaos. Visually, they’re very different. They are also very different ecosystems on how to communicate with your audience, and Facebook is much, much more focused on that from a business perspective. Facebook’s capability for using it as a communication platform absolutely blows away MySpace.

Grant: What are some of the common mistakes businesses make when attempting to market themselves on Facebook?

Rodney: People thinking that “If I build it, they will come.” Facebook is like any other social media. It takes nurturing, and you have to build it continually and engage with people. And the more you give back and the more transparent you are – in the forums, or ‘on the wall’, or with an application that they can rate and review – they can surround your brand.

I think that for companies that want to attempt to do this on their own, they need to first live in the Facebook space for awhile. You really need to first understand the ecosystem, and there are a lot of subtleties to it.

It’s really funny, but most of our clients are in their 30s, 40s, and 50s; and a lot of these people really haven’t been involved in (online) social networks. I suggest they just go create their own personal profile and check Facebook out. Go look at pages, join some groups, see how the newsfeed works. Then seen what your competitors are doing, or are not doing, and see where there might be an opportunity.

Simply living in the Facebook space is very beneficial to doing any marketing. To do otherwise is like saying you want to build a website but you don’t want to go on the Internet. You need to at least participate to understand what you’re trying to do.

Grant: Let’s talk about video content and business opportunities with video in Facebook. Video has its own category in Facebook, which even offers greater submission file size and time spans than YouTube. Does video also show up in Facebook’s own search engine results? Can the video show up on web-based search engines?

Rodney: As far as how video gets distributed, it is very different from YouTube, in the sense that there’s not a central location for all the video. It’s really based on connectivity – the people you know in the real world. What happens is, my friends will instantly see the video if I make it accessible to them. I allow that video to be shared with my friends, and they share it with their friends and their networks, and so it just moves through the social graph.

What’s interesting is that there’s really not a lot of video on Facebook right now. Even the Facebook video feature is an application created by Facebook itself. Others could build their own video app to compete, but it would cost a lot of money. Their video product is getting better, but there are still shortcomings. For example, there’s no view count in Facebook with a video; you have to measure its viral strength by the comments you receive.

Grant: Some businesses are trying to market themselves through Facebook applications. What exactly is involved in creating a Facebook application in terms of programming time, expertise, etc.?

Rodney: First, of course, there’s the discovery process of determining just what app you’re going to build and what business objective it’s going to accomplish. Then you have to determine what the user interface is going to look like. Facebook apps are written in Facebook Markup Language (FBML), which is a unique language to Facebook. But if you can develop in NET or PHP, you shouldn’t have a problem developing in FBML at all.

As an example, the “Snowboard Challenge” application took a couple of hundred hours of programming to make. There are people who can tell you they can build a Facebook app in a day, but those tend to be very lightweight, one-dimensional apps. Those type of apps have run their course in Facebook and are now fading fast.

Grant: We have already seen that in pay-per-click advertising there are attempts to bid on your competitor’s brand keywords. Do we see those same brand hijackings in Facebook as well?

Rodney: Yes. When Facebook launched their FA platform, they announced that developers could create apps. It very much became like the Wild West, including that app developers were using images that were copyright-protected. Take Starbucks – there are some very cool apps in Facebook on Starbucks, such as telling you where the nearest Starbucks is, including bringing up a map. That’s an example of a brand getting hijacked in a positive way – the experience is neat and very useful.

There are other examples where a brand gets hijacked in a negative way. As an example, the Facebook app RealAge can determine what your real age vs. your chronological age is, taking into account eating and exercise habits. The problem is, someone went on Facebook and took that name, basically copied the intellectual property and started to use it, but was in no way affiliated with the real RealAge. Consumers were confused as to who really was responsible for the Facebook app, and weren’t able to make the distinction, so they naturally thought it was from the real RealAge.

Now, if the app creates a bad experience, that can be terrible for brands. So brand managers need to go look and see how their brand may be used in Facebook, because if it’s a consumer brand or consumer-packaged brand, odds are that it’s in Facebook somewhere and being used in an app.

Grant: Where do you see Facebook going with opportunities for businesses in the future?

Rodney: I think the opportunities are going to be even greater. We’ve been around the Facebook space since the beginning, and we’ve now seen this avalanche of apps in Facebook, creating ‘app fatigue.’ And, a lot of them are one-dimensional. But I think the future will consist of more robust apps that streamline communications, and are able to bring to the surface more meaningful connections.

We’re starting to see that with some extremely robust apps right now in Facebook; they just haven’t yet spread virally, like the “Food Fight” type apps already have. But I do still see that as the future – apps which streamline communication.

About the Author

Grant Crowell is the CEO for Grantastic Designs, a search marketing and usability firm, and Senior Analyst of ReelSEO.com, a video solutions publication for online marketers.

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