Businesses can make a killing by engaging with fans on Facebook, says the social media giant's Dubai representative.
The sweet smell of success
The British luxury fashion house Burberry generated a unique fan following for its new perfume even before the product was launched.
It created a buzz by distributing free samples of the new fragrance, The Body, with its Facebook page playing a key role in spreading the word.
By the time the product was released to the market, Burberry had distributed half a million samples all over the world.
"We have got such a wonderful momentum," says Christopher Bailey, the chief creative officer at Burberry, in a video shared on Facebook.
The fashion house recorded a 96 per cent year-on-year growth in perfume sales in last year's final quarter after the global distribution of the samples.
More important, according to Burberry, it had reached out to half a billion friends of fans through its Facebook page.
"We were able to create a unique content," Mr Bailey says of Burberry's fragrance campaign on Facebook. "It adds a whole new personality and a whole new audience." Engaging with fans and their friends through sponsored stories and soliciting feedbackare key to using Facebook to boost revenue, according to the social networking site's Dubai representative.
With more than 45 million subscribers in the Middle East and North Africa, Facebook is positioning itself as the go-to tool for marketing and brand-building, even though some companies have differing opinions.
"Do not see it for promotional purposes," says Scott Hicks, a client partner at Facebook's new Dubai office. "Some brands only see the number of fans [on their pages]; it is about engagement."
Sponsored stories, such as one created by British Telecom in which customers were invited to dress a bride and plan a wedding, are another way. Nike and Huggies have also used the tool to engage with customers and their friends. Huggies asked its fans to send pictures of their babies to be displayed on the sides of a bus that will roam Hong Kong.
"[But it is important to] monitor the reach of sponsored stories to ensure friends of your fans are seeing your message," says Mr Bailey.
Facebook's penetration in the UAE, with more than 4 million active users, helps to make it a potentially lucrative tool in marketing and brand building.
"Once you build the fan base, you can use it in infinite ways to build the brand," says Mr Hicks, adding that the fans also must reflect the actual nature of clients of a firm.
Some companies, however, prefer a different approach.
One of the large domestic fragrance companies in the Middle East does not believe Burberry's campaign would work in the region.
One of the main reasons is logistical. No courier company would carry perfume bottles larger than 30 millilitres out of the Middle East into Europe and North America without additional documents such as letters describing contents, packing lists and commercial invoices.
Because of the restrictions, distributing perfume on a large scale from the Middle East would not be viable, said Syed Zubair Haider Tirmazi, a spokesman of Ajmal Perfumes.
Moreover, Ajmal's retail plan is based on having more than one outlet in major cities in the Middle East - a market on which the company focuses - unlike a single boutique store for a fashion brand, such as Burberry.
"Online sales target customers you cannot reach, and it works for companies with limited presence," says Mr Tirmazi, which is not the case with Ajmal. In Middle East, the company has 126 retail outlets, including in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain.
Companies that conduct online competitions on social media websites such as Facebook have also come across another problem. Usually, the contests ask participants to vote and leave comments on the companies' contest pages.
"[But] many fans have dummy emails for these competitions," Mr Tirmazi said.
And there is no way to identify and block the fake fans from Facebook.