"Engagement" may be one of the most overused words in marketing right now as brands strive to tap into the more than 1 billion Facebook users.
At its best, though, engagement in a community such as Facebook opens up the potential of a shared and "human" social experience between a brand and its fans, and then extends that connection from fans to friends of those fans.
So how can brands encourage social sharing? Beyond creating interesting News Feed posts—every day—brands can deploy social engagement apps to showcase campaigns and content in a way that is more immersive than a single News Feed post.
Apps come in many forms—from simple pages that allow browsing of product content—to complex integrated activities such as games, quizzes, sweepstakes, contests, live-streaming events, and more.
How to use apps to cultivate a deeper connection with fans
The best social apps have a few things in common: They engage, entertain, and invite participation from the user in ways Facebook pages and other forms of online media cannot. They invite a deeper connection with a fan than can be achieved with a simple post to the Facebook News Feed.
Indeed, in our research, we have found that posts generated by social engagement apps are seven times more engaging than regular content in a brand's News Feed. The posts generated by social engagement apps are simply more likely to be commented on, shared, and Liked by fans than other News Feed content.
Through our experience with hundreds of leading consumer brands, we see that basic best-practices for boosting engagement on Facebook fall into three main categories.
1. Engage fans with interesting, entertaining content
Simply asking for a Like is not enough for brands that want to get serious about their relationship with their fans. Well-designed social engagement apps combine elements of the unexpected with inspiration—a daily challenge, daily instant win prizes, new daily product features—and enrich each fan's News Feed with something worth sharing that's new and interesting every day.
The best social engagement apps may include galleries of beautiful, shareable content; they may invite fans to contribute their own story content, which is often more authentic and interesting than brand-created content; they may invite discovery of a fan's preferences; or they may encourage fans to vote on content.
All those activities generate stories that help brands keep their News Feed updated with something new and engaging every day.
2. Encourage fans to share the experience
People typically trust a friend's recommendation more than a brand message or advertisement, and social engagement apps work best when they get fans to generate "earned" stories. So it's critical to encourage fans to share their participation with a brand to their own News Feed, and so invite friends-of-fans to participate also.
3. Promote the social engagement experience
Even perfectly designed social apps can't be left alone to fend for themselves. The most successful apps reach the widest audience possible when all of a brand's marketing channels are used—not just Facebook.
Successful campaigns will considerably improve results when they go beyond owned media, such as posts from Facebook pages, to include partner brand Facebook pages, email lists, websites, press releases, and QR codes—always ensuring all links work perfectly on mobile devices. Engagement experiences on Facebook that fail on mobile, will regularly miss half their potential audience.
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Good Facebook marketing, like all good social media marketing, enables fans to disseminate a message on behalf of a brand, reaching far beyond a brand's Facebook fan count and into the coveted News Feeds of their friends and friends of friends.
A social engagement experience that doesn't generate stories in the Facebook News Feed is no more social than a billboard on the side of the street; it's seen only by the person who drives by, and it can't be picked up and distributed to, and by, friends.
Social marketing campaigns that don't inspire fans to share fall at the first fence in the race to successful viral marketing.