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Home » Engagement, Social Analytics, Social Media News

How to build an overnight Facebook sensation on the cheap

Submitted by on June 2, 2011 – 12:22 pm6 Comments

That’s how you could pretty much sum up the conversation I had this morning with Jon Bishop, head of social media for PayPal UK. For the second time in a year, the popular online payment service has amassed 6-digit gains in its Facebook following in a matter of days with a pretty cost-effective pitch: friend us and you’ll get a chance to win a new iPad 2.

When we first reported on this campaign we were pretty skeptical, wondering if such a blatant give-away was, you know, pandering to the masses. What happens when the winners are announced, we wondered, and all but 10 grumble in disappointment? Would they stick around, or un-Like PayPal UK and go about their day? And isn’t there a more meaningful way to generate interest than to just give away a must-have gadget?

Before we answer that we should admit that we’ve got a bit of egg on our face. Bishop convincingly pointed out that the weeks-old effort has been a big success in not only attracting fans (more than 100,000 have “liked” PayPal UK in the past 2 weeks) but in boosting the daily interaction in the community (comments and queries are up, and not only to talk about the give-away) and, he believes, it will lead to continued loyalty and even further engagement down the road. Why so? PayPal executed this same campaign a year ago in Germany and the net result was roughly 100,000 new fans and the community there has grown incrementally ever since, in both follower numbers and in terms of daily interaction between members and PayPal Germany staffers.

PayPal UK figured it had a good chance of duplicating the success of what occurred in Germany, Bishop says, because “at least 80% of UK Facebook users have a PayPal account. What a great platform for us then to go out and engage with them.”

Here are a few other things about this campaign that are worth noting:

On customer acquisition costs: Bishop says there was NO out-of-pocket digital ad spend backing this effort. The only cost was the price of the 10 iPads (for sake of argument, let’s call that £5,000) and the cost of building the contest app (price = “very little,” he says). And the results? They’ve gained over 100,000 followers on a cost of little more than £5,000. If you do the math, that’s a cost of 5 pence a follower! And the campaign still has a few weeks to run. Run that ROI metric past your direct-marketing number-crunchers.

The risk of attracting the wrong kind of fans: Marketers know in the back of their mind that any time they organize a give-away it will attract contest junkies who could care less about your company or brand. Bishop says he expects they’ll lose some fans after the contest winners are announced, “but we’ll still have a big audience left with which we can engage.” And building the community is the hard part, he points out. He’s confident the vast majority will stay with PayPal UK because so many of them use the service already. And, with a big community they can begin to talk to them about other issues, including new product launches and even answer customer service queries.

Golden rule of engagement: Which is? Right. “Don’t talk about yourself all the time.” Many brands forget this, pumping out the me-me-me announcements. “The idea is quite simply you should be talking about what they want to hear. After all, it’s their page,” Bishop says.

Are give-aways the only way to boost your fan following? Bishop acknowledges it’s worked very well twice now for PayPal. But he points out that it’s worked because once people are there on the Facebook fan page they can read up on other related matters of interest. It’s true that the give-away is far and away the most-discussed conversations on the PayPal UK Facebook page at the moment, but, in reading the comments, Bishop says he and his team can start to learn better what people are interested in. And guess what? It’s not always what can I win?

The importance of momentum. Here’s why a give-away of this kind makes sense, Bishop explains. At the outset the typical fans community needs some kind of jolt,  something to perk their interest, something that will compel the general public to investigate the community and maybe tell friends about it. In this case it happened to be the lure of an iPad2. Once the seeds are sown, the numbers grow and the community starts to reach its full(er) potential. But you do need that level of meaningful daily interaction otherwise nobody will join the community. And you need the people to make that happen. And you need the incentive to lure them there in the first place. If the offering is a compelling one then the new followers will stay long after they’ve won or lost the contest.

Ok, so “bribery” it’s not. We admit it. Now we’re wondering: will PayPal UK succeed in breaking some kind of customer-acquisition-cost record? We’re also guessing Facebook cannot be too happy that a brand has so deftly used its platform to build a swelling fan base without needing to buy a single ad. Expect to see this kind of effort duplicated again, and not just by PayPal.


  • Chris Keating says:

    Bernhard – you mention a “customer acquisition cost” of 20p. This is not really the case, as most of the people signing up will be existing Paypal customers and many of those who aren’t, won’t become customers as a result of the promotion.

    I’ll be interested to see how the 100,000+ people who don’t win react in a couple of weeks’ time, or whether Paypal change the sort of content they provide on Facebook, which is basically all competitions and offers.

  • Well put, Chris. More like “fan-acquisition cost”

  • Jon Bishop says:

    Hey Chris

    Yes, I agree its more about fan acquisition in this case as we use Facebook for engagement, not as a customer acquisition tool.

    My experience with competitions in the social space is that usually the announcement of the winners is quite well received, with a lot of comments congratulating them. Of course there will be a few jealous/disappointed people as well and I do expect to see a bit of a drop-off in fan numbers but we’ll still have made huge gains in numbers after that, as was the case with the German competition.

    If you read through the posts PayPal have made on the page, you will see there are also general/news updates that are not about the competition or offers (eg, the customer photo shoot, the xBox announcement, discussion on the future of cheques etc). We will continue to engage on a wide range of subjects and content types and also ask plenty questions to the audience on what they want to hear about and get their input into various subject matters

    Hope this helps!

    Jon Bishop
    Head of Social Media PayPal UK

  • [...] week we looked at the novel way in which PayPal UK has recruited over 100,000 160,000 Facebook fans and another 11,000 Twitter [...]

  • [...] Heres a link to the PayPal marketers interview, its pretty sound research: “How to build an overnight Facebook sensation on the cheap.” [...]

  • johnboy says:

    I watched the Paypal FB campaign with interest – some great lessons to be learnt from it.

    1) it’s easy to get raw numbers with a valuable gift/competition
    2) providing a platform for uncensored chat when your brand is not universally loved is a dangerous strategy – a lot of the comments were simply the PP haters going to town
    3) Stay calm – when the competition collapsed (very many not seeing the sign up form, pre flight testing would have been a good idea) and the bitching started the PP official voice became, well frankly, snippy and tetchy
    4) Changing the rules at the end – very bad idea, air of mistrust further damaged the PP brand, especially as the rules (it became just having to “like” to enter) are then outside of the FB competition TOS

    Spin aside, the PP iPad campaign actually looks like an unmitigated disaster from any angle other than “we got 100,000 FB page likes.” That’s about the daily growth of the Sponge Bob Squarepants *daily* growth, and the crudest, least interesting metric.

    If the sign ups can be successfully marketed at then PP might be able to look back and decide it was worthwhile but that remains to be seen. That list is getting cold already.

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