Word of mouse

Facebook has become a part of so many people's lives that you couldn't imagine a movie or a TV series not having a presence on it. And Canadians are among the world's biggest users of the social media site, a point reinforced a couple of years ago when Toronto became the first city to register its one-millionth Facebook member. (Presumably my fellow citizens just can't get enough of the blow-by-blow daily goings-on of the school chums they had successfully avoided for the previous 20 years.)

Facebook has become a part of so many people’s lives that you couldn’t imagine a movie or a TV series not having a presence on it. And Canadians are among the world’s biggest users of the social media site, a point reinforced a couple of years ago when Toronto became the first city to register its one-millionth Facebook member. (Presumably my fellow citizens just can’t get enough of the blow-by-blow daily goings-on of the school chums they had successfully avoided for the previous 20 years.)

But Elmer Sotto, head of growth at Facebook Canada, believes media companies here could still use a refresher on how to make the most out of the platform.

‘There’s no other market that is as primed, ready and willing as Canada is, and Canadian Facebook users are all for engagement from their favorite TV shows or upcoming movies that they really care about,’ Sotto says. ‘Or movies that have passed that they want to continue to have a conversation with.’ Sotto will be giving tips at the nextMEDIA Toronto conference on a Dec. 1 panel entitled TV Reframed: Designing for Sociability.

Cancon has reached out to the Facebook community with varying success.

At the high end you have pages for long-established shows that count Facebook fans in the six digits, such as Trailer Park Boys (134,181 as of Nov. 10) and Degrassi: The Next Generation (112,336). Then you’ve got impressive numbers for Quebec blockbuster feature De père en flic (57,353), So You Think You Can Dance Canada (36,988) and Rick Mercer Report (25,518), down to modest figures for Flashpoint (10,017) and Battle of the Blades (6,275) and really modest for an English-Canadian feature such as Cairo Time (106). Global series The Guard doesn’t even have an official page, but a fan page for it has attracted 63 members. Ouch.

No doubt the young ‘uns were the earliest Facebook adopters – after all, the whole thing was conceived in a Harvard dorm back in 2004 and for a while was open exclusively to college and high school students. But the geezers are catching up: Facebook says the 35+ crowd is its fastest-growing demographic.

Media companies can buy advertising on Facebook and potentially reach a whole whack of eyeballs, but there are many tools available that don’t cost a thing. For example, any broadcaster or show website can put a ‘fan box’ on its home page that allows visitors to become their fan on Facebook. And then a broadcaster or distributor is able to market their wares directly to Facebook members in the same way those viewers interact with their personal acquaintances, and in fact take advantage of those interactions.

For example, one series that tickles Sotto’s fancy is Modern Family, which airs on ABC and Citytv. He opted to become a fan and soon received show updates, ‘funniest moment’ photos and video clips in his Facebook news feed.

Some Canadian broadcaster sites do the fan-box thing, including Citytv.com and MTV.ca, but, Sotto adds, ‘one or two out of many is not enough.’

A more recent development is Facebook Connect, which allows users to bring their Facebook identities and much of the platform’s functionality to other destinations on the web.

One series using Facebook Connect is FlashForward (121,543 fans), the new ABC/A channel drama in which the world tries to understand why everyone blacked out for two minutes and 17 seconds. If you really want to be freaked out, go to the show’s Facebook page, enter the ‘FlashForward Experience’ and you will be redirected to an ABC site where it will incorporate Facebook pictures of you and your friends into a show clip and create a scenario explaining where and with whom you were when the blackout occurred. You can then choose to share the experience with your Facebook friends.

ABC.com is also using Facebook Connect to help members find other Facebook friends on their site, see what video streams their friends are watching, and join in the viewing. They can then chat while they watch, facilitated by Facebook’s Live Stream Box widget beside the video player. (‘On average, it will take a developer with rudimentary coding skills three hours to implement, and it’s free,’ Sotto says.) Hulu allows users to watch popular shows right on its Facebook page – in those territories where Hulu is available – and provide comments and chat.

‘People love to watch TV with each other, and digital is allowing them to watch with their friends and family despite the fact they’re not in the same room,’ he adds.

Offering so much for free, Facebook has for years struggled to find the right business model, and only in the past few months has it been cash-flow positive. The revenue, then, comes from paid advertising that appears on member home pages and can be targeted at a very specific demographic based on the geographic, demographic, language, relationship status and sexual-preference information members are asked to provide when they create their profile. Facebook sells the ads and helps execute strategy here in Canada from a downtown Toronto office with around 10 staff.

The premium model is what is called an ‘engagement ad,’ of which the Warner Bros. movie Where the Wild Things Are recently took advantage. Part of the campaign involved asking fans – it has nearly 1.9 million of them – to ‘RSVP’ to the film’s Oct. 16 release, and then subsequently reminding them of that date to keep the buzz going. Sotto says such options help movies ‘put their campaign on Facebook on hyper-speed.’

Of course, Facebook is not the only major social media site out there, but according to comScore it does get the most monthly unique visitors. It claims to have more than 300 million active users worldwide, and 14 million in Canada. Nonetheless, savvy companies don’t want to put all their digital eggs in one basket, so Facebook does play with Twitter, for one, allowing users to post their Facebook updates to the 140-characters-or-less service. Just don’t tell Sotto they’re rivals.

‘Unlike anywhere else on the web, we have real people on Facebook,’ he says. ‘We don’t have anonymous users. We don’t have users who create personas. You are who you are on Facebook. There’s a tremendous amount of value there because our platform offers marketers and media companies the ability to find real people, be able to speak to the ones who are interested in their particular product and spark that word-of-mouth conversation within users’ real-world connections.’