By Arun Sudhaman

LONDON: EMEA head of strategy and planning for Facebook, Trevor Johnson brings a unique perspective to how brands are interacting with the social networking platform that now – famously – counts more than 500 million users.

In the following interview Johnson covers plenty of ground, including the biggest mistake brands make on Facebook, why marketers are still nervous and, of course, privacy.

How does the privacy issue impact your role dealing with clients and agencies?

It’s always a concern but with privacy it’s a communication issue rather than a core privacy issue. I think we’ve addressed over the last six months where we’ve changed our privacy settings to make them much more actionable. Obviously, clients and agencies have a concern over privacy and being associated with Facebook but I think we’ve done a good job over the last six months, trying to allay those fears and trying to show people that you have enough control over your privacy than maybe you thought beforehand.

Do you still see nervousness from brands when it comes to social media?

You do. It’s a completely different marketing mechanic. Now you’re in an area where you put your message out there and you don’t know what’s being done with it. If people are going to react to it negatively they can do that relatively easily through social media. We’re a few years into it and there’s some really good stuff now going on. We’ve seen some cool stuff and businesses really starting to galvanise around social media. But it’s still something where people are nervous and testing the water.. At the same time it is something where people are investing significantly and taking seriously. To be able to have a two-way dialogue with customers is a significant opportunity.

There are a lot of brands on Facebook now. Is that something you look at or are you more focused on their paid presence?

It’s the whole thing. We’re a sales organisation so we’re driven by the paid stuff but that feeds the earned and owned media. You need them all working together in order to have a really great campaign. You need to buy ‘Like’ ads to generate those fans of the pages. Organic impressions are generated by engagement with those ads, generating stories in people news feeds. That’s the earned stuff. Then you’re owned media is your Facebook page to be able to publish and interact with your fans.

At the moment, is there a particular preference among brands for their owned Facebook presence as opposed to their paid or earned efforts?

You have to put a lot of resources into owned because that’s your little microsite. Starbucks has got 10 million fans on their Facebook page; it’s probably their biggest marketing channel outside of their retail network. People always want the earned media because that’s the stuff driven by engagement and that’s the stuff that is much more valuable driving awareness of your product and your service. But you can’t have that earned media without the bought media, those two things working together.

The Open Graph initiative must give you access to a lot of information. How useful is that when you approach brands about their engagement strategy?

The more you can tell them about a group of customers – we never do it at an individual level – the better they can understand them and deliver an engaging experience. There’s a lot of information that a brand can get about their users and as long it can help them better deliver on the product and experience for their customers, then that’s great. It’s an important part of making the internet better and making products and services better. It’s great, as long as the user trust is maintained.

WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell said that brands shouldn’t necessarily be involved in social media. What’s your point of view on those types of comments?

Brands should only be in social media if they can add value to that experience. If they are creating relevant experiences, content, discussions – then they have every right to be there. Brands shouldn’t be in there if they haven’t got a reason to be there or if they are not going to give people relevant, engaging experiences. What people forget is it’s quite easy to turn people off in Facebook. As soon as brands start to publish things that aren’t interesting, it’s quite easy to switch that off. As soon as brands start to become irrelevant, it’s quite easy for those people to switch them off.

What’s the biggest mistake brands make on Facebook?

Not having a reason to be there. We talk a lot about having conversational calendars. If you’re going to open up a connection with someone, you need to think about what you’re going to do with them and how you’re going to engage with them. Don’t generate a fan base and then think ‘oh what am I going to do now?’

What do you think of some of the metrics that have emerged, valuing what a Facebook fan is worth?

Fans are only worth what you do with them. We don’t want to put a monetary value on the fan because – it’s not ridiculous – but a fan of a newspaper is going to be different to a fan of Nike and Adidas. We always say your fans are your advocates, so advocacy is actually much more important than the monetary value. The value of your fans is being able to seed products and services to their friends. I’m sure people want to put a monetary value but from our perspective its about advocacy metrics – awareness, consideration, purchase intent – rather than monetary metrics.

What are the opportunities for brands with Facebook Places?

We’re just getting the product out there [Facebook places has yet to launch in Europe] so in terms of the brand discussions, you can look at what people like Foursquare are doing. I wouldn’t want to explicitly talk about Places because we’re not in a position to talk about that just yet. But looking at things like Foursquare and being able to deliver coupons or recommendations depending on where you are is obviously a very intriguing thing for brands to be able to do. And for a global brand to be able to operate at such a hyper-local level and deliver relevant engaging product services, coupons, offers – is significant. But I’m not saying that’s where Places is going to be.

Things have changed a lot over the past couple of years. Do you think brands ‘get’ social media now?

A lot of brands do. The issue is defining what social media is. There are so many elements of social media that it is actually quite hard for anyone to really understand and get all aspects of that. Where does it sit? Does it sit with PR, advertising, creative agency or the client? All of those questions still need to be answered and all of those answers are different depending on the setup of the client. But people are investing time and effort trying to answer those questions and create those business models that help them execute on their social media strategy. Then you’ve got Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, blogs and your own website. It’s a huge complicated thing – it’s no wonder brands may not have fully understood what they need to do. But when you get it right, it’s great.

Which brand do you think has got it right?

We always say Starbucks. They have 10 million fans, they engage them using the full product suite. They do lots of different things to engage their huge fan base. They are a really good example.