Check out our .MARKETING domain!

There are many tools that are available to companies in social media marketing, but one that you don’t hear about often is social gaming, especially when these games are played directly on popular social networking sites like Facebook.  Farmers Insurance earlier this week announced a new campaign that would put their virtual airship on the screens of everyone playing the popular social game FarmVille, which was reported to be 80 million users earlier this year.

I had the opportunity to interview Ryon Harms, the Director of Social Media for Farmers Insurance, and get his input on the significance of this campaign for Farmers as well as what other social media marketers can learn from his experience.  Here’s what I learned from the talk and the campaign itself, which was the brainchild of Marc Zeitlin, Vice President of eBusiness for Farmers.

1.) Any Social Media Campaign Needs to Be Aligned with Your Brand

Farmers Insurance was founded in 1928 by actual farmers who felt they were under-served and paid too much for insurance.  100 years later, Farmers is now serving virtual farmers on FarmVille.  Farmers Insurance came to the conclusion that partnering with Farmville would actually align very nicely with their brand and who they are.  Farmers Insurance has always been seen as a conservative company, and now they wanted to show that they were in touch with their clients, had an amazing internal culture, and cared a great deal about their customers.  Social media was seen as a perfect channel to use to get the word out about who they were.  And the choice of FarmVille was a natural.

2.) You Need to Be Where Your Audience Is

I was confused why Farmers would choose FarmVille, which I always thought of being something that a younger demographic who had no need for insurance were playing.  According to Farmers, though, the largest deomgraphic group playing FarmVille are actually stay-at-home moms.  Since they believe that this population is in charge of a majority of the insurance buying decisions in any given household, FarmVille was a perfect outlet to reach out to their potential customers on.

3.) Be the Pioneer, Not the Follower

Harms mentioned that this was only the first of many social media campaigns, and that social gaming is still something that they will continue to work with.  Farmers, who were late to the social media bandwagon of Facebook and Twitter, see social gaming as becoming a much more popular thing in the future, and they want to be the pioneers here.  No doubt that support from the executive team as well as the efforts of Zeitlin, who did not have a background in social media, to try to do things differently and do something new were instrumental in making Farmers a real pioneer in the space.

4.) Approach Social Gaming as an Opportunity

I was wondering how it was working with Zynga.  Apparently, it was easy for Farmers to work with them and align their strategy with that of Zynga to ensure that Farmers was able to build awareness while respecting the integrity of the game and the people playing it.  Social gaming is an opportunity, like mobile, that are only going to gain in importance, yet so few companies seem to have a strategy on.  Now is the perfect time to approach social gaming as an opportunity.

5.) Compliance Issues for a Regulated Industry?

There are many companies in regulated industries like Farmers who are trying to stay as far away from social media as possible.  It was encouraging to see that Farmers agreed to do this social campaign, yet I wondered if there were any internal departments worrying about potential compliance issues.  According to Harms, FarmVille is a virtual world, so the only compliance issues that Farmers had was actually making sure that they played by the rules of the game!  Even if your company is in a regulated industry, there are things that can be done in social media to help your company build brand awareness.

6.) Social Media Does Not Exist in a Vacuum

Farmers is not putting an airship on FarmVille for the sake of advertising in a virtual world.  They are, in parallel, running a campaign on their Facebook Fan Page which will allow the winners, chosen from those that “Like” their page, to have a ride in the actual Farmers Airship, pictured above, which is apparently the largest flying aircraft in the world.  Gamers on FarmVille will be taken directly to the Farmers Fan Page by clicking on the virtual airship protecting the virtual crops.  By integrating FarmVille and Facebook with their promotional campaign, the result will not only be much greater awareness by those playing Farmville as well as Facebook users in general; it will also have a lasting effect of having a Fan Page with tens of thousands of present customers and future clients that can now be tapped into in the future.

So what have the results been of the campaign so far?  The Facebook sweepstakes started 2 weeks ago, at which time Farmers had 6,500 Facebook fans.  That number last week swelled to 14,000 with the introduction of the sweepstakes.  After the FarmVille campaign started on Monday, that number has jumped to more than 37,500 fans.  That doesn’t necessarily equate to more revenues, but in an industry where Geico has mindshare with their entertaining commercials and Allstate and State Farm have more sales, Farmers has made a statement by setting up shop and allowing their fans quick access to quotations, searching local dealers, and even the ability to ask a question directly on their Fan Page Wall.

Where does Farmers go from here?  “Obviously we want to be number one in social media out of all of the insurance brands,” said Harms, “but more importantly, we want to be considered a leading social brand, a company that would be at the top of the Social Media Brand Engagement Report put out by Altimeter.”

It is refreshing to see a big brand who understands where they are going and where they need to be with their social strategy.

What do you think of this social campaign?

Image courtesy of Flickr / praytino

Enhanced by Zemanta

This article is by Max. Social Business from maximizesocialbusiness.com.