NEW YORK -- Annie Scranton has a little problem.
The founder and president of a New York public relations company, is successful and sober-minded, but when it comes to this one thing, she has a definite compulsion.
It's the "Like" button on Facebook -- she just can't stop clicking it.
"I'm totally obsessed with it," said the 31-year-old. "Just like a lot of people I know. My friends and I call it 'Like-Bombing,' where you go online and like everything."
So it's a good thing for serial "Likers" such as Ms. Scranton that there are growing numbers of rewards for people who click that button.
Hotel chain Marriott International Inc., for instance, is offering those who Like its Facebook pages prizes totaling 10 million reward points, including two grand prizes of a million points each.
"It's become a real competition between companies to grow the size of that number [of online followers] and to have more fans than your rivals," said Matt Simpson, marketing director for Phoenix-based Bulbstorm, which develops social-media applications for companies such as NBC and World Wrestling Entertainment.
"Over the last year, we've been seeing more and more of it, and it's been driven largely by promotional applications like sweepstakes."
For instance, Facebook users who "Liked" Toys R Us before Thanksgiving got a shot at a limo ride, a $1,000 shopping spree, and exclusive store access before its doors opened for Black Friday sales.
Travel site Expedia.com, meanwhile, hosted a "FriendTrips" sweepstakes for those who Liked its Facebook page, offering voyages to one of 13 destinations.
As a result, in the third quarter of last year, an average of 100 million "Like" buttons were being clicked on Facebook every day.
That's double the amount of liking that went on during the same period last year.
Corporations are doing this for a reason. They're building marketing lists, they're aiming to boost sales, and they're planting themselves in users' news feeds.
Coca-Cola Co. has more than 36 million Likes, and Disney Co. has more than 29 million, assembling an audience that can be tapped at any time.
Althugh companies are certainly happy to have you as a fan, what they're really interested in isn't you; it's your friends.
Because if a Facebook user officially Likes Starbucks, that user's friends see that Like, and they become more likely to spend there as well.
"Friends of fans represent a much larger set of consumers than the brand's own fans," said Elisabeth Diana, Facebook's manager of corporate communications.
"In fact they're 81 times the size of the actual fan base, so Likes are a way to reach those people as well."
The promotional pushes seem to be paying off.
Expedia's FriendTrips campaign, for instance, garnered 900,000 new Likes for the company.
Marriott's contest lasted until the end of 2011. Its new Marriott Rewards Facebook page has already gone from zero to more than 170,000 Likes.
"We've surpassed all other hotel rewards programs in under three weeks," said Michelle Lapierre, Marriott's senior director of customer relationship marketing.
Of course, once a company has an army of online followers, that's not the end of the marketing road.
Then there's the question of what to do with them all.
That's why companies are proceeding to Phase Two of the Like operation: Figuring out how to engage and entertain consumers on an ongoing basis. To try to do so, they have unleashed a flurry of polls and quizzes and games.
"Collecting Likes by giving away prizes is a great way to build a fan base, but it's not the be-all and end-all of Facebook marketing," said Mr. Simpson of Bulbstorm, who himself won a 10-day trip to Hawaii from just such an online promotion.
"Savvy brands are starting to focus on things with more entertainment value, to keep you around longer than the seven seconds it takes to fill out a form," Mr. Simpson said.
Beware, though, that Liking something publicly makes companies keenly interested in who you are and where you're surfing.
Not only that, but Facebook is rolling out so-called 'Sponsored Stories' of such activity.
In other words, if you officially Like Target Corp.'s Facebook page, your friend Jim might get a Sponsored Story in his news feed announcing that thrilling development. So if you're uncomfortable with your personal business being public, then maybe Like-Bombing isn't your best online strategy.
As for Ms. Scranton, though, she has no plans to rein in her Like campaign -- especially because it has brought her a number of new business prospects.
"My business is inextricably linked to social media, so if I wasn't constantly Liking things, my clients wouldn't be happy," she says. "Even when I'm working, I'm on Facebook all day long. You can never do enough Liking."
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