What do a farmer, a mobster and monster have in common?

June 13th, 2011- Have you gotten those pesky requests from Facebook friends requesting to join their mob on Mafia Wars? How about a helping a friend water their crops on FarmVille? Many of us (including myself) ignore these silly requests with a simple eye roll and a quick click of “Ignore This Request” button. That’s all about to change. According to eMarketer, “around 68.7 million Americans will be playing social games by 2012.” So what makes these games so appealing? Why are they so successful? What’s the value of incorporating ads into social media games?

According to Mashable, social media games are popular because they can virtually connect our friends to play games along side each other, no matter where our locations are. Here’s a look at the Top 5 Social Media Games:

1. FarmVille- Created by Zynga, FarmVille has about 10% of all Facebook users growing and harvesting crops. The key to this game’s success is calling on neighbors (friends) to increase your productivity. You’ve probably seen the success of some of your friend’s virtual farms on your news feed. This is meant to entice you to click on the post and see what’s so exciting about this game. Social media and music maven, Lady Gaga knows how to play the social media game. She partnered with the creator of FarmVille, Zynga, to create GagaVille. Similar to FarmVille, GagaVille is a farm that has unicorns and crystals. A unique social media marketing campaign jump started the game. Visitors got a first listen to the unreleased songs from Gaga’s album, Born This Way. And if you purchased a $25 Zynga game card at Best Buy, you received the full album as a free download. This paired a product launch with a social media game for maximum reach.

2. Zuma Blitz- This is NBN client PopCap’s addictive ball matching game. At first glance, it seems like a simple, time passing game. The secret to keep the obsession thriving, are the bragging rights. While playing the game, users can see a set of rankings. Those ranking are updated with your friends’ high scores. This sparks a friendly competition between friends that keeps you hooked for hours.

3. Words With Friends- Scrabble is not only a popular board game, but a widely favored online game. With the launch of the App on Kindle, iPad, Facebook and other outlets, the Scrabble fever is completely contagious. Like Scrabble, Words With Friends is available on your phone 24/7. It allows you to compete with any of your friends, picking up right where you left off at any time. Words with Friends works so well because it is very much like Scrabble, except free.

4. Mafia Wars- Using popular films and TV shows like The Godfather, The Sopranos, Goodfellas, Scarface and Boardwalk Empire, Mafia Wars combines those thrilling mob stories into a game. The Facebook mob simulator allows you to recruit friends and form your own mob to carry out “jobs.” Pretending to be Michael Corleone or Tony Soprano with your Facebook friends is the main attraction here. Using pop culture in a social way has made this one of Facebook’s most popular bad boy (or girl) games.

5. World of Warcraft- This game by NBN client Blizzard Entertainment is one of the most popular multiplayer, online role-playing games. It holds the Guinness World Record for the Most Popular Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game by subscribers. Diehard fans sacrifice sleep, food, and time with loved ones to play this game along side others. What might be perceived as a geeky guy’s fantasy, this game has over 12 million subscribers from all backgrounds (Mila Kunis even plays it) to join the fantasy. WoW is an imagination maker machine. It allows you to choose to be a boy or girl, make friends, enemies, form relationships and take on an entirely different personality from your own. Forming relationships with other users across the globe makes it one of the most powerful social games.

Not only are these social games fun with friends, they are also being called the next advertising frontier. Simply put, social games aren’t focused on the amount of eyeballs looking at a particular ad, but rather the engagement they have with the ad. For example, FarmVille allowed gamers for the first time to purchase Cascadian Farm blueberries on their virtual farms. According to Zynga this increased Cascadian Farm’s unaided brand awareness by 550%. Zynga was able to track each user’s purchase of each blueberry. The game company found that Cascadian Farm blueberries were purchased more than any other blueberry offered on FarmVille. Even more exciting, some games have bigger audiences than prime time television. Some games, such as FarmVille or Mafia Wars, have about 30 million players each. That’s more people than are watching on any one night of American Idol or Dancing with the Stars. Advertisers could pay for ads that interact with 30 million users, rather than paying for a video commercial for 28 millions viewers to watch (and possibly ignore) on the couch.

The advertising isn’t limited to the virtual world. It can carry onto products or in-store values. 7-Eleven combined their social promotions with their products. If a customer stopped into a 7-Eleven and purchase an iced coffee or Slurppee, they were given a code to unlock a 7-Eleven virtual good for FarmVille. Over 3 million codes were redeemed during the six-week campaign.

Social Games also create buzz for a new product or event. We partnered with Bacardi to cover their “Like it Live” event. The fun started on Bacardi’s Facebook page to raise brand awareness. It looked at what their consumers like on Facebook. They found that most of their fans liked hip-hop music, drinks and pizza. To bring that to life, they created a “Like-Off” where people voted for one thing versus another. The winning ‘Likes’ shaped the content for the Facebook event in New York on June 13th and Las Vegas on June 15th. To jump start the event, Bacardi sampled the top ‘Likes’ during one week. They used those votes to shape the content of a smaller event at New York’s Gansevoort Plaza. Fans voted for pizza trucks instead of taco trucks, NBA sharp shooter John Starks shot two-pointers, four Playboy playmates slugged it out during a pillow fight and notorious rapper Nas took the stage to promote his latest album.

According to BIZBASH, at the center of this social media campaign, “We’re going to have these two events, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, show the consumer how we did it, and then launch something called Together Tools on Facebook. It’s a widget, a proprietary product we built with Facebook, that people can use to create their own events by grouping together ‘likes,’” said Bacardi senior brand manager Billy Melnyk. Since launching the “Like It Live” campaign one month ago they have more than doubled their Facebook fans. To see their Gansevoort Plaza event click here.

Social media games are not only fun for friends, but are proving to be extremely useful for the social media marketer and advertiser. Finding a way to combine your social media messages through a social media game can increase brand awareness and your social media community. After writing this blog post, I decided to venture to the world of social gaming. I take back my eye rolls and slights. These games aren’t just mindless entertainment. They happen to be an excellent way to interact with friends and family that live thousands of miles away. If you’re a newbie to social gaming, take it from me, Words With Friends is highly addictive. I can see why they call social gaming the new advertising frontier. What company wouldn’t want to advertise on a platform that millions of people interact on? These games should come with a warning label: EXTREMELY CONTAGIOUS….and fun.