Why Bing Loves FarmvilleMarch 9, 2010: 10:38 AM ET
Microsoft learns a lesson on how to win Facebook fans and influence people
Bing may have a much smaller share of the search market than Google (GOOG), but it now has more fans on Faceboook. After offering Farmville players free currency in exchange for becoming Facebook fans last Tuesday, Microsoft's (MSFT) Bing page gained 425,000 fans, more than tripling its fan base.
The early success of the campaign, which was designed by interactive agency Deep Focus, has a lot to show us about smart brand advertising on social networks. It was immediately effective because it appealed to one of the most passionate communities on Facebook, offering its members something they really wanted. Game makers have long (or at least "long" in Internet years) touted the benefits of putting up ads inside their environments. Now the product placements that have long populated more traditional titles are making their way into social gaming. But will users react the same?
With more than 80 million players tending virtual crops and raising animals on virtual farms, Farmville is Zynga's most popular game. For 24 hours last week, Microsoft placed an ad for Bing in a virtual field on the front page of Farmville. A prompt invited users to become Bing fans and recommend the action to their friends in return for virtual currency redeemable for seeds and tools and other farm items. It's the most visible product placement ad Zynga has run to date.
But recruiting fans was the easy part. Now it must attempt to convert the seed fiends into Bing users. To cater to this group, Bing followed the promotion with a status update a few days later reading "Any Farmville fans out there? Try using Bing to get the most out of your crops and animals" with a link to Bing search results. So far, nearly 2,000 people have left comments on the post.
Even as advertisers rush to Farmville for a virtual land grab, it's critical to remember that the campaign worked in part because Bing was first to try it. There is great value in being the first company to test an advertising strategy in any social medium; if the Zynga experience becomes cluttered with more product placements, users will turn away. In a word, we trust our friends who show us cool things; we don't trust the friends who are always trying to sell us something.
Already in 2010, there's some evidence that social networks are watering down the power of peer influence for marketers. Every year, Edelman conducts a survey (The Edelman Trust Barometer) to measure what information sources people trust the most. This year, the percentage of people who reported they trust their peers plunged to 25% from 45% a year ago. Many analysts blamed the rise of social networks, which they say dilute traditional concepts of friendship. It's certainly true that "friend" and "fan" were not verbs before Facebook caught on. Now they're verbs, and for advertisers like Bing, they are increasingly important metrics.