Generating buzz online about a new service or product is one of the toughest things marketers and PR folks will ever have to do. It’s hard enough to achieve when you have real-life publicity events, where employees can display enthusiasm about a product and hopefully encourage others to do the same, but online you don’t even have that advantage.
Some of the tactics people use to generate online buzz are understandable enough. There’s the Twitter contest, which has become very popular of late, in which a company will give away a free product or service everyday to one random person who’s tweeted their message. And then there’s the virtual Facebook event, usually at launch or in celebration of some other milestone, like a certain number of units sold.
I’ve been invited to a number of Facebook events in my time, the majority of which I couldn’t actually “attend” per se, short of just marking the time on my clock at home and being done with it. I’ve attended a few, too, but mostly when I was already quite excited about the product or service in question, and more than willing to buy it when it became available.
A case in point was the Asus Eee PC 1000HE (the first netbook with all-day battery life) Facebook launch event. I attended it, but I was going to buy that machine on launch day anyway, so I only signed up for the event in order to get updated about release date information. The event didn’t sell me the product, but it did ensure that I was as informed as possible about when and where I could buy it.
I’ve used events myself before to launch publications, but again, the value of the virtual event as a sales tool was questionable. In all cases, almost anyone who RSVP’d to the event did so either because they had contributed to the publication in question, or because they were being good friends. The problem with a virtual event is that you can RSVP without consequence: no one is making appetizers or arranging seating based on your promise to come or stay home.
So as a sales tool and as a gauge of consumer anticipation, Facebook events aren’t ideal. But even if they aren’t ideal, are they worth the effort? And how much effort is required? On the surface, making an event seems like an easy enough thing. Just set a time and date, choose an image and enter a description and you’re done, after you invite some people and encourage them to invite others.
But that’s not really all there is to it. You have to encourage discussion on the site in order to keep people interested, which is one of the hardest tasks anyone working on the web can do. You also should consider sending out updates to draw people back to the event page, and to keep everyone up-to-date. The problem is that if you do this too frequently, you can quickly become a pest, and the threshold of what constitutes annoyance will vary person to person.
In the end, I’ve decided not to continue trying to use Facebook virtual events to help with my marketing efforts. It’s true that they have some advantages over Twitter marketing (they are stable, non-repetitive and discoverable), but the effort required doesn’t seem to justify the payoff. Better, I think, to just wait until something launches and send out a notice then, although you won’t generate any kind of buzz ahead of launch using that method. But it might depend on the level of anticipation to begin with; my experience has mostly been with extremely niche products, where it’s hard to generate much fervor outside of a core demographic anyway. Maybe Facebook marketing is best left to the big boys.
What’s your experience with Facebook virtual events, both as an administrator and as an invitee/guest? Do you think they are an effective marketing tool?