Want This Facebook Offer? Better ‘Like’ Us First

oscarmeyerWhile newspapers such as The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal have built pay walls into their websites, many Facebook marketers are now constructing “like” walls.

An increasing number of brands have been running contests, offering sneak-peek videos, or pitching other exclusive content on their Facebook pages, while requiring the viewer to “like” them in order to participate. A sample of the brands includes Oscar Meyer (see image), Bud Light, USA Network, Macy’s, and the marketers for the upcoming independent film, “Certifiably Jonathan.”

Chandos Erwin is managing director at Los Angeles-based agency Oatmeal Beach, which has been running the “Certifiably Jonathan” campaign. “Brands are creating offers that essentially [incentivize] people to ‘like’ them,” he said. “It’s definitely a hot trend right now.”

Indeed, there is even a pool of service providers that help automate “like” wall marketing, including Context Optional, Involver, Buddy Media, Vitrue, and NorthSocial. (Such firms often refer to the practice as “fan-gating.”)

But the tactic begs the question: Are marketers diluting their “likes”?

“Many brands are going for scale,” explained Ian Schafer, CEO of social media agency Deep Focus. “If you are not creating valuable consumer relationships, then you are watering down what those connections mean.”

What’s more, after “liking” a brand to get a promotion or exclusive content, Facebook users can immediately opt out by tapping the “Unlike” button that’s located at the bottom-left-hand corner of Facebook pages. But Schafer said marketers shouldn’t worry too much about consumers who “like” a brand just to take advantage of an offer before quickly “unliking” it.

Instead, the agency CEO compared “likes” to e-mail subscribers whose enthusiasm for a brand sometimes wane to the point where they decide to opt out of a list. “I do not often see people ‘unlike’ a brand quickly after ‘liking’ it,” Schafer said. “It’s not until the brand screws up the relationship that the ‘unlike’ occurs.”

Kevin Barenblat, CEO of Context Optional, essentially agreed with Schafer’s premise, while emphasizing the importance of relevant messaging. “The brands need to determine and respect what people want to hear,” Barenblat said. “The savvy social marketer is not looking for a one-night stand, but instead in building the relationship with consumers who like them.”

Tactic Pays Off For Entertainment Brands

Meanwhile, the “like” hurdle tactic appears to achieve the primary goal of increasing a Facebook audience. That certainly seems to be the case for entertainment marketers. For example, USA Network has built up 41,000 “likes” in a few weeks for its new show, “Fairly Legal.” It’s made exclusive content available only to viewers who “like” the show’s Facebook page.

“Certifiably Jonathan” has achieved similar results, picking up 45,000 “likes” in less than six weeks. Erwin and his Oatmeal Beach team have been age-targeting Facebook.com ads to push the film’s Feb. 11 release. A secondary part of the effort involves getting the movie’s subject, legendary comic Jonathan Winters, to host “Saturday Night Live.” (A similar campaign for comedic actress Betty White was successfully orchestrated on Facebook last year.) The “Certifiably Jonathan” ad’s landing page required viewers to “like” the movie in order to either watch a trailer or send a message to NBC to tell the network to let Winters host “SNL.”

Erwin said that he wasn’t concerned about paying for Facebook clicks and impressions that would result in “likes” who didn’t actually have an affinity for Winters’s brand of comedy. However, he recognized that the practice could depreciate the value of a Facebook audience in the cases of retailers and discount marketers that target much wider niches.

“If I am ‘liking’ a page just to see what a brand’s services are, I am not really that interested in the company,” Erwin said. “It’s something we think about with our campaigns – how valuable are the ‘likes?’ If you have 40,000 ‘likes,’ what percentage of them are really involved? How valuable are they?”

Vijay Pullur, CEO of SocialTwist, said that even if a percentage of “likes” only jump on board temporarily, “there’s nothing wrong with brands employing this marketing strategy to provide a gateway incentive for consumer interaction.”

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