facebook promotionsIn the first half of 2011, Facebook’s revenue hit US$1.6 billion.

How much of that revenue comes from tiny Malta? I would guess that it’s probably not more than 0.05 per cent, making us barely a blip on the radar.

As we know, being the small guy hidden away in the corner can have its advantages. While Facebook is busy elsewhere, Maltese companies have been busy taking the opportunity to experiment and develop campaigns and promotions, many of which pay little or no regard to the promotions guidelines.

This ability for the small fry (and some not so small) to just go ahead and, for example, use the “Like” function as a voting mechanism in a competition is not just a problem in Malta.

It’s obvious that there are simply too many promotions going on for Facebook to keep track.

Image above via Howard Lake‘s Flickrstream, CC 2.0

That doesn’t mean, however, that brands that blatantly defy the guidelines aren’t taking a risk.

In fact, with each passing day, the risk for companies in Malta is growing. That is largely because we are in the midst of a Facebook frenzy with every imaginable type of business feverishly trying to increase the number of “Likes.”

Like everywhere else, the immediate and measurable response of digital, and its presumed clearly visible ROI, is getting people slightly too excited.

The consequence is that Maltese consumers are being bombarded with Facebook competitions and advertising. And any serious thought as to how social media might actually change the way brands communicate with audiences in a mutually beneficial way is left by the wayside.

Of course, none of this is new.

The question, though, is: How long will it be before the public decides that they’ve had enough and that their Facebook experience has been compromised so much by the constant commercial messaging that isn’t really giving them any value?

The enforcement of the promotions guidelines will not come from Facebook itself but from its users. How, when, and which, brand will be the unlucky one to face the backlash in Malta is yet to be seen. But that day is drawing nearer.

Amidst the headlong charge of the herd there are of course some companies that do “get it.” In fact, the most impressive piece of social media work I have seen in Malta has come from Island Hotels Group  (not a client I must add).

You see, the group has taken over an abandoned holiday village which in a previous life had also served as a base for the British Army. The site is being redeveloped into a luxury hotel (this image is an artist’s impression of the completed project provided courtesy of Island Hotels Group).

These types of developments are always contentious.

In a country measuring just 320 square kilometres, land is scarce, and sustainability a big issue. Despite the fact that the project is essentially recycling a site that has already been developed, criticism was inevitable.

I have no idea whether it was by design or luck, but their decision to set up a Facebook page for the project right from the start was definitely a clever move.

Almost immediately, questions and complaints about the project started flooding in. Within days the story had been picked up by the national media.

But this was no bad thing.

By attracting the fire, they were able to own the issue and to respond to individual concerns quickly and effectively.

The hands-on contribution by the CEO, who also made himself available to personally meet people who had concerns about the project, means much of the potential antagonism has been dealt with before work had even begun.

It was all textbook stuff, really. But the fact that there is someone out there in Malta who understands that social media is not just about marketing but about conversation and the ability to engage with specific groups, not everyone under the sun, cheered me up no end.

For most of the rest, the question – of how long they’ll get away with it – remains.

Conway Wigg

Conway Wigg

Digital Strategist at BPC
Conway Wigg is a digital strategist at BPC, Malta's leading communications agency and a senior manager at Arabicomm, a full service media and marketing agency operating in North Africa which is part-owned by BPC. Conway has also worked in London, most recently as Internet PR Account Director at Propeller Group. His client experience includes HSBC, Vodafone, Emirates and Kellogg's.
Conway Wigg