Posted by: Patrick | June 30, 2009

DigitalBeat: Vanity URLs – Facebook’s latest move to reach marketers

June 29, 2009 | Benjamin J. Weisman

benjamin-weisman-headshotNames, in their simplest form, are how an association is created between an individual and tangible objects, actions and concepts. These labels and associations can affect how people will ultimately perceive an entity, both on and offline — so they matter for brands.

Meanwhile, leading social network Facebook has been making a series of changes to their platform in an attempt to facilitate the creation a stronger bond between individuals, communities, and brands.

Two weeks ago Facebook began letting people register “vanity” URLs, either for personal profile pages or for public profile pages. By getting a vanity URL, these people can further develop their presence on the web. These URLs can be easily recognized anywhere (you can imagine seeing http://www.facebook.com/coca-cola in a Coke ad, for example), and they can help a profile page appear more prominently in search results. Of course, there’s another incentive to get a vanity URL – someone could use a vanity URL with your name or brand to spread false information or take your business, as has happened with many domains on the web.

While Facebook’s vanity URLs are noteworthy, this has been available on blogs for some time, as well as other social networks like MySpace and Twitter. Twitter’s microblogging service has proven itself to be an especially fast way for marketers to reach a lot of people. But unlike Twitter, MySpace and blogs,  the 200 million-some monthly active  users on Facebook tend to share information privately with their real-world friends. For brands, Facebook URLs are a new way to tap into those connections.

Smaller brands get access vanity URLs

To prevent squatting, Facebook put a couple temporary measures in place. Any owner of a public profile page that registered within a couple weeks before the vanity URLs were opened was not allowed to register a URL. Neither was any public profile page with less than 1,000 fans. This way, anyone who had recently or unsuccessfully attempted to copy a major brand via a new page (say, by creating their own fan page for Coke), wouldn’t be able to register.

Now that users and larger, older public page owners have registered their URLs, Facebook has opened up registration to any page owner starting yesterday, Sunday, June 28 at 12:01am Eastern Time.

facebook-coca-cola

How will this affect smaller brands?

Full access to vanity URLs is comes right as Facebook rolls out a number of other public-facing features useful to brands. Facebook’s new “Everything is Public by Default” setting lets individuals and public page owners send out status updates and other information that is publicly available.

It’s interesting that in such a short time Facebook has made such significant changes to the platform. What’s extremely interesting about this is that they originally gained momentum and a sense of value to many early users in that it was a closed community that was more private. It wasn’t as much about lifecasting – it was about small networks and the areas they overlapped.

For most Facebook users, the ‘public by default’ setting won’t have much of an effect on their daily habits — they don’t want to make their private conversations public. Nonetheless, Facebook is letting them do so, and in this way creating ‘mineable’ data like what Twitter has. The status updates, links people share, comments, friend relationships, and more that people share are, in sum, valuable information in determining what sort of things people like — and would like advertising for.

For brands, the ‘everything public’ is great, since they will have the ability display a public-facing profile that can be reviewed by the anyone and everyone, showcased by the website itself and its user-base. A company can now have their social media presence elevated as a true extension of their brands and services.

Facebook’s new ‘Hybrid Engagement Ads’

fb1Facebook is beginning to make ads more interactive. For example, you might see an ad for a brand’s page, see a “become a fan” button, and officially become a fan without having going to the page itself. The advertisements are just the next step of the ‘in-feed’ ads it has had for years. As with sharing, their relationship to the new Vanity URLs is simple – Through naming there’s an opportunity for consistency within the ad message or title.

The effectiveness of a Hybrid Ad will be related to the proposition being offered through that ad. The ability to engage in ads that can have an immediate action will also depend on that actions result. That Facebook makes the ads appears as part of the user’s profile experience lends the high possibility that many users will trust these ads and engage, as long as the proposition is relevant.

Conclusion: Start experimenting

All of these changes, the Vanity URLs, Hybrid Ads, and the overall trend toward public-facing information, can be viewed in light of Facebook’s goal: Blending relevant advertising  with the content its users are sharing. The URLs make the brand more transmittable and accessible, while the ads invite users to create and disseminate co-created content. This branded content then becomes increasingly public, as Facebook rolls out similar changes.

Facebook’s product is continuing to evolve. But the product line-up has become diverse and built-out enough where brands large and small can benefit through trying them out.

Benjamin J. Weisman, is a Digital Director and Lead Strategist with Iris, a global, independent, integrated marketing agency working across all media and all disciplines. Working with global clients which include Sony Ericsson, Sony, adidas, ING, Shell, Coca-Cola and Hertz, Iris delivers award-winning creative work and integrated solutions across advertising, direct, digital, PR, retail, experiential and sponsorship, in addition to management consultancy.

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