At their core, all social networks are about one thing: friends. Without them there would be no impetus to join, and no sustainable interest in remaining a member. Depending on the network, users add friends selectively or collect them like hockey cards. Either way, they're vital to every single consumer who ever logged in to an online community.
It was with this in mind that Canadian telecommunications company Telus launched what I consider to be one of the best sponsored applications on Facebook I've seen.
Last month, the company introduced a new cell phone plan called My Faves, which allows customers to pick five friends -- regardless of their own carrier -- with whom they can receive unlimited talk and text services. With a target market of high school and university students, and an objective to raise awareness of the new service, social networks were the ideal venue through which to inform and educate consumers about the plan.
Telus looked to Toronto-based creative agency Teehan & Lax and media strategy firm Media Experts to create a social networking application reflective of My Faves' key characteristics. Facebook was the obvious network of choice. According to comScore data, the site drew 7.5 million unique Canadian visitors under the age of 25 in March.
Facebook has found 27 percent of its Canadian audience is under the age of 18 and 56 percent is between 18 and 24. Earlier this year, the site's traffic surpassed that of MySpace, making it the leading social network in Canada.
Anyone familiar with Telus' advertising won't be surprised to learn the application incorporates animals. The company is known for employing "spokescritters" and nature-based themes in its campaigns, both to differentiate itself from competing wireless carriers and to cleverly highlight different aspects of its services.
In My Faves' case, the critter of choice is fish. The application takes the form of a fishbowl, which Facebook members can add to their Profile page. To occupy the bowl, they select up to five Facebook friends, each of whom is represented by a different variety of fish. Users can also add famous Canadian landmarks to their fishbowls, including the CN Tower and the famed Sudbury Nickel.
The language used throughout the process is consistent with the Telus brand and references the product it's ultimately intended to promote. While customizing the application, Facebook users receive the message: "What crowd do you swim with? Tell the world with your own customized virtual fishbowl for your profile." After creating a fish to represent the user, Telus delivers the message: "You look lonely. You should always swim with a buddy or five. Let's start adding your faves." When friends are added, they receive an e-mail notification that references the Telus My Faves plan:Check out a custom fishbowl that I built for us to hang out in. Then build your own to show the world who you call a fave! My Faves is a great new plan from TELUS that gives you unlimited local talking and texting to any 5 numbers, on any network, anytime.
Once the customization process is completed, users are provided with access to the code to add to their personal blogs or other social networking sites.
The application, seamless in its execution, isn't unlike the Top Friends widget that's been making the rounds of Facebook of late. Where it differs is in its relevance to Telus' latest offering. There's an intuitive connection between the idea of hosting a virtual gathering for critter friends in a Facebook fishbowl and the five friends calling plan. Whether Facebook users who download it are Telus subscribers or not, they can enjoy the concept behind the tool. But there's clearly branding value in the patently sponsored application as well.
Since launching in late July, the My Faves application has received over 7,500 downloads on Facebook. The company also sponsored a news feed targeting every Facebook user within its student demographic. Most recently, a Telus-sponsored Facebook Group was formed to generate feedback on the application. A My Faves representative is actively involved in monitoring discussions and responding to consumer comments.
It may be too early for us to identify best practices regarding this form of social network marketing, but this fun and fitting application would surely make the cut. From concept to ad buy, it's a prime example of how social sites can be effectively used to go beyond branding to increase awareness of -- and interest in -- a new product.
Nothing fishy about it.
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Tessa Wegert is an interactive media strategist with Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy and services agencies, serving such brands as Bioré, Bratz, Food Network, illy, Hunter Douglas, Jergens, and Olympic Paints and Stains. An industry veteran, Tessa has worked in online media buying and planning, marketing, and online copywriting since 1999. She is an active freelance writer specializing in interactive marketing who has contributed to U.S. and Canadian publications, including "USA Weekend Magazine," "Marketing Magazine," "The Globe and Mail," and "The Montreal Gazette." She is frequently quoted as an industry expert and speaks regularly at industry conferences and events.
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