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Case Study: How Travel Channel Effectively Engaged More than 2 Million Facebook Users

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Company: Travel Channel
Contact: Pete Dorogoff, Head of Digital Marketing at Travel Channel
Location: Chevy Chase, MD
Industry: Entertainment, B2C
Annual revenue: Confidential
Number of employees: 135

Quick Read

Imagine a world in which you persuade your customers to kidnap their friends so that you can then convince them it's in their best interest to visit your Web site. Virtually, it's already happening. And turning out quite well.

Travel Channel's Kidnap! Facebook application—a game launched in August 2008—rewards users for "kidnapping" their friends and pushes traffic through to TravelChannel.com by incorporating travel-related content into the game.

The application was designed to spread virally and encourage repeat use, and it has succeed on both fronts, far outperforming the limited amount of paid promotion that was initiated when the application first launched.


Within the first six weeks of launch, the game registered 225,521 monthly active users and 23,034 daily active users; 1,711,300 sent kidnap requests; and a 28% lift in traffic to TravelChannel.com. Since then, usage has grown to a whopping 2.4+ million players and an average of more than 1.1 million daily engagements.

"The play is amazing," said Pete Dorogoff, Head of Digital Marketing for Travel Channel, who also emphasized the cable network's achievement in using social media to reach substantial mass volume and appeal.

Challenge

Travel Channel wanted to build awareness and traffic for its content-rich Web site, TravelChannel.com, as part of a new effort to redefine itself as a widely accessible, multimedia source for travel-related information.

Together with marketing and customer relationship management agency RAPP, Travel Channel identified the Facebook community as an ideal target market, because of its reach and demographics. And a game built on Facebook's application platform, which would ultimately link to the Travel Channel Web site, stood out as a way to both engage these users and stimulate the sense of discovery and adventure that Travel Channel fans crave.

The challenge, however, lay in the estimate that over 95% of Facebook applications have fewer than 10 daily users, a statistic that the Travel Channel and RAPP were determined to beat.

In July 2008, the companies commissioned the services of social marketing firm Context Optional to assist in developing a Travel Channel application that users would find value in, choose to return to, and share with friends.

Campaign

The Application

Travel Channel's Kidnap! Facebook application launched in August 2008. Branding has been kept to a bare minimum, appearing only once users are engaged in the game and at a point where Travel Channel can add value to the context of the game.

The game rewards users for "kidnapping" their friends with a choice of methods, such as "8-Ball in a Tube Sock" and "Giant Sticky Paper." Through Facebook, these friends then receive a notification letting them know they've been "Kidnap'd," with options to "Escape" or "Ignore."

All users are provided with one "Body Double" per level for an easy escape. When no more "Body Doubles" are available, however, kidnapped friends remain "trapped" at the kidnapper's hideout—one of 30 cities worldwide that the user chooses when joining the application—until that person correctly answers a trivia question about the hideout location.

Kidnapped friends are offered assistance for correctly answering the questions via a Travel Channel Cheat Sheet prompt and button, which links to a page on the Travel Channel site highlighting hideout city information such as history, cuisine, and notable landmarks. This element represents the first and most transparent reference to the application's sponsor. A user's passport, which is stamped each time the player "escapes" a hideout, also links to the Travel Channel site with information about those locations "visited."

A points system rewards a kidnapped friend for correctly answering the question within three days; after that, an increasing percentage of the points are awarded to the kidnapper, with all points going to the kidnapper if at any time the question is answered incorrectly.

Points determine a user's ranking on the game's leadership board, and users can earn additional points for answering trivia questions, even without being kidnapped.

Players can also advance levels by kidnapping more friends. Higher levels provide users with additional kidnapping methods, extra "Body Doubles," and the opportunity to switch hideout locations.

Additional Facebook Promotions

In addition to the Kidnap! application, a Travel Channel-branded Facebook page was set up to build community, promote Travel Channel features, and hype the application.

In the first four weeks of launch, Facebook social ads were also used to generate awareness for the game; however, most of the application's growth to date has been achieved virally.

Results

Kidnap! is the most popular travel-related application on Facebook, with over 2.4 million users and growing. It is also one of the top 30 applications overall—and the most popular branded game—on Facebook.

On average, the application receives 230,000 users a day—including 140,000 return users—and 1.1 million daily engagements, translating to nearly five engagements per person, per day.

More than 33 million "Naps" have been sent since the application launched in August, and approximately 100,000 new users are added daily through the invitation process. The invitation acceptance rate initially registered a high 54% and has since settled at around 38%, still 12 points above the Facebook average.

Paid advertising has accounted for only around 8,500 users, demonstrating the viral brawn that has been achieved. The Travel Channel Group on Facebook has also grown via word-of-mouth and has more than 7,400 fans.

As for TravelChannel.com, the Kidnap! application ushers in around 60,000 clicks to the site daily.

For Travel Channel, this campaign has proven that Facebook is a viable means to market, and the company plans to dedicate more marketing resources to the medium in the coming year.

Lessons Learned

1. Make your application worthwhile to users. Kidnap! provides value in the form of a fun way for users to interact with friends. Furthermore, it is visually appealing (it's one of few Facebook applications that incorporates Flash) but also simple, straightforward, and easy to use.

2. Make sure it has viral potential. Users don't merely interact with friends; they are also rewarded with points and game-level advancements for subsequent interactions and for inviting new friends. Context Optional also helped improve the invitation success rate by incorporating messaging ("You have been Kidnap'd") that encourages participation.

3. Make it a positive brand experience. Travel Channel understood that people on social-networking sites aren't looking to be sold; they're there to connect with friends. For this reason, references to the company's sponsorship were kept to a minimum and came to light only once users were both engaged in the game and could benefit from Travel Channel's resources.

4. Make it engaging over the long term. From the points system and leadership board to the passport feature and unlockable game levels, Kidnap! was designed with incentives to encourage return usage. Limits placed on the number of invites that a user can send in a single day also support this goal. To ensure that the application remains interesting and fresh for current users, Travel Channel plans to continue updating the game with additional hideout cities and features.

5. Finally, test, learn, and evolve. The Travel Channel/RAPP/Context Optional team has relied on reporting and user feedback to optimize and refine the application since its launch. For example, users could originally attempt to kidnap a new user only once, under the assumption that friends would become annoyed with multiple requests—a concept they later found to be flawed. When the rule was changed, the daily volume of new users immediately jumped from 20,000 to 50,000 and has continued to increase.

Related Links

Kidnap! Facebook application http://apps.facebook.com/kidnapped/

Travel Channel site http://www.travelchannel.com/

Context Optional site http://www.contextoptional.com

RAPP site http://www.rappcollins.com


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Kimberly Smith is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. Reach her via kims@marketingprofs.com.

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