Not for long, as MySpace is now a unit of News. Corp. it is under more pressure to deliver revenue from their sizeable audience. Becoming more developer friendly is how many news articles put it, I like to think it is becoming “app happy”. MySpace adding user driven applications is only the first step is what I see as a spiral downward for the once giant among the High School crowd.
My daughter of 15 tells me MySpace is not as cool as it used to be and that Facebook has way cooler features (applications) that allow her and her friends to connect in “funner” ways (her words not mine). It would seem that News Corp. placed it’s bets on a dying supernova unless they can find a way to attract an online buying audience that will respond to their advertising and now applications. In short, they need to attract an older audience as Facebook is starting to do. I should mention that Facebook is only 1/3rd the size of registered users that MySpace has with 20M and 60M respectively.
So why Free Condoms? As a happily married guy with a vasectomy, my need for free condoms, or condoms at all is nill. But a very socially networked friend of mine, Steven Iser (whose Birthday was yesterday), tipped me off. Now Steven is a unique person, at 21 he does more in 1 day than most of us can accomplish in a week. When he told me about Free Condoms, he interrupted his videotaping of a JV club post he was doing while driving. To be sure, you will want to follow the launch of his new Social Networking Marketing Course which I have had the privilege to see in action and it is far and away the most intelligent social marketing plan you can implement. Check out www.readyaimwired.com to get updated on the launch. (I will be blogging about this more when it out on the 30th).
Free Condoms is the first application I have seen for Facebook that includes an element of pure direct marketing, albeit wrapped in a thin veil of social responsibility. For those who do not have a Facebook site, the applications I am speaking of (of which there are 3000+ and growing) are simple plug ins that a Facebook user can have listed on their page and usually have some element of linking people together or taking some action such as asking a question to a group or taking a quiz, then everyone who you have as friends can also be invited to join you in your endeavor. Free Condoms ties in a points system for completing offers. The same way the Free iPod offers for The Useful and others have used a points system for completing offers. In Free Condoms a user earns Banging Bucks for completing the offers (mainly ringtones, FASTweb, Blockbuster Online and toolbars). To online performance marketers, the offers included are somewhat tired but to the younger Facebook crowd (the major users of condoms) they seem to work.
What doesn’t work, as I came to understand from reading the Free Condoms Community page, is that these offers do not post points back in real time and often take days and weeks to assign accurate Banging Bucks (bb’s) to the appropriate user, The Free Condom developer, Alex Page, has done a nice job of manning their Community board and explaining the discrepancies and what they are doing to address them. I give her a lot of credit for taking on such a fickle community. The Community pages are awash with posts from folks who have not received their bb’s and cannot get their free raincoats, and they are not happy about it. There are however, the evangelists, which seem to come to the rescue organically of the developers and seem to balance out the negative comments with posts that they received their shipments and got their bb’s with no issue. If you are going to have a Community, you have to get them involved in a positive way to ensure trust and ultimately success it would appear.
The main takeaway form Free Condoms (and BTW, they have shipped over 2M condoms to date) is that social networks can be a place to play for performance marketers who are willing to put in the time. Free Condoms is not revolutionary in its execution, since the affinity model is as old as retail. What is important is this, social networking hasn’t rejected this as a marketing ploy to get their data as well as get revenue from the offers that the user completes. Last time I checked the going rate for FlyCell was down around $12 per signup. A Flycelll signup is worth 90 bb’s, far more than the store’s lowest price item, The Basics Package (an assortment of 10 condoms, some lubricant and a Free Condoms sticker) that only takes 15 bb’s to redeem. So the shipping and cost of condoms must be lower than $5 to $6 for them to make a profit, unless they are using the data they get to market to them via e-mail or offline direct marketing. They have their mailing address.
So a smart marketer might look at this, like say Proctor and Gamble, and devise a way to get people to fill out survey information for free samples. Take more surveys the more samples you get, the more friends you invite, the better the samples and freebies. Or another take on this could be from an affiliate point of view (which is essentially what the Free Condoms developers are in relation to the offers they are promoting) and do a magazine rack application. One would build up points by receiving different magazines which they could redeem for Amazon gift certificates or other Gift Card offers, like from Restaurant.com. The possibilities are endless.
The formula is just emerging and Free Condoms is leading the way. Who’s to say what Facebook’s editorial policy, or even MySpace when they get into the applications game, but you can be sure that they will be wary of these types of applications since they, like the original Free iPod offers, were slow to come across with the goods and the social backlash can be a nightmare to fix. So far Free Condoms has been able to successfuly satisfy a good portion of their user base and will probably just get better at it through simple trial and error over time. Those getting into this type of campaign may want to ensure they have the goods and deliver promptly and when possible with documentation (think Publishers Clearinghouse and how they publicize the winners of sweepstakes to build legitimacy as well as buzz) in the form of pictures, video and positive user comments, which have become the currency of trust in the Social Networking world today.
So in the words of the Partridge Family, “Let’s all get App Happy”.
For those you you without a Facebook page (you really should get one), here are some screenshots to help you better understand how the application is set up.
Here is the initial page you are brought to when you add the application or access it through the links that are placed on the right hand navigation when you install the application on your Facebook page. It is essentially an offer wall.
Here is the Free Condoms store.