There are many opportunities to market your business to Facebook’s massive membership (400 million and counting). One of the more insidious ways is to insert your brand right into an established “ecosystem” where people are already actively engaged. The immensely popular social game FarmVille is one such ecosystem. Not only does it engage millions of players for hours on end but it has marketing “hooks” built into the game play itself.

FarmVille is a free, browser-based game played through your Facebook account where you harvest crops, feed chickens, and converse with other farmers. At the time of this post, there are over 73 million people playing FarmVille with 26 million playing everyday. It is, in fact, the most popular game online. More people play FarmVille than World of Warcraft so it comes as no surprise that Zynga (the company behind FarmVille) has a revenue run-rate of $600 million. Even in the current recession, the video game industry did nearly $20 billion last year in the US alone.

One of the paradoxical reasons FarmVille is so successful for Zynga is that players can sidestep the tedious task of farming (e.g. clicking a hundred times to harvest crops or plow a field) by “buying” equipment with FarmVille Cash, effectively accelerating the process of advancing your player’s XP. This virtual cash can be acquired by leveling up (one FarmVille dollar per level) or spending actual real-world cash.

To promote its “decision engine” Bing, Microsoft offered FarmVille players free FarmVille Cash if they became a fan of Bing on Facebook. As a result:

  • Over 72% of players who clicked on the promo became fans
  • Over 59,000 people published the promo to their news feed
  • Over 70,000 clicks were received on secondary feeds
  • Over 400,000 new fans within 24 hours

Microsoft stated social media goals are to increase Bing’s user engagement in a positive, intimate, and scalable way and to do this by providing relevant value. The company’s experiment with FarmVille achieves this in spades without being intrusive or overbearing.