Tony Stark, better known as Iron Man, believes in “better living through technology.” Most marketers would argue that better marketing is enabled by technology as well. One of the primary game-changers today is Facebook and studios are learning how to engage audiences online to spur a better box office.

Movie marketers understand the impact that reaching their desired audiences on Facebook can have on driving awareness and interest in a film. For them, the power of Facebook is its ability to quickly build a community and customer relationships, generate real-time conversation and feedback, create promotions that reach relevant users, and accelerate content-sharing across the web and mobile devices. (Also, see my previous post, Movie Apps Get Social as Studios Integrate Facebook Connect.)

According to Facebook, more than 25 billion pieces of content — such as links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos — are shared each month. Millions of these comments and posts are movie-related. Facebook is rocket fuel for word-of-mouth and studios are experimenting with how to best engage users in order to convert those who “Like” a movie to someone who purchases a ticket. With the arrival of the summer movie season, I decided to take a closer look at the Facebook pages for six studio movies and see which one, if any, was Buzz Lightyears ahead with Facebook engagement.

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Iron Man 2 | 1,360,503 Likes
Top Tabs: Wall (landing tab) | Info | Photos | Boxes | Video
Studio: Marvel, Paramount Pictures | 28,201 Likes
Release date: May 7

Iron Man 2 has made more than $290 million at the U.S. box office, according to Box Office Mojo. More than a million people are fans of the franchise on Facebook. While the Facebook page is nothing to marvel at when it comes to creativity outside of the core Facebook tabs, there are seven international pages (Australia, Brazil, France, Italy, Mexico, Spain and the U.K.) for “Iron Man 2” which is a testament to the global interest in the superhero. The U.S. page provides the essential photos and videos, but lacks the charisma of Tony Stark or the appeal of Pepper Potts. Alternatively, the Facebook page for Stark Expo, which includes a letter from Stark about his commitment to technological wonders, is a clever mechanism to get fans engaged with an event that occurs within the film.

When more than two thousand people respond to a simple question, such as “Did you see Iron Man 2 yesterday?,” a Facebook page can be a weapon of mass conversation.

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Sex and The City 2 | 1,967,023 Likes
Top Tabs: Wall (landing tab) | Info | PREMIERE | Photos | Video | MORE FUN
Studio: Warner Bros | 62,308 Likes
Release date: May 27

Fittingly, the glossiest Facebook movie profile belongs to “Sex and The City 2.” The “MORE FUN” tab on the page opens up a world of content, including a character quiz, an interactive trailer, a Girls Night Out planner, an iGoogle theme, a local hotspot guide and perhaps most importantly, one-click access to Carrie Bradshaw’s closet.

While it’s not clear how many SATC2 fans glammed up their Google page, the more than 30 official international pages reveal that the movie is a global phenomenon.

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The A Team | 36,197 Likes
Top Tabs: Wall | Info | A-Team (landing tab) | Video | Photos | Discussions
Studio: 20th Century FOX
Release date: June 11

With a team member named “Face,” the “The A-Team” is a natural fit on the A-list of social networking sites. While the page provides good mix of behind-the-scenes videos, character profiles and promotional news, it also should reflect the rogue nature of “The A-Team” and give fans a sense of adventure.

The page does link to a “Drive The A-Team Van” YouTube channel, where fans can drive the van in Google Earth to unlock videos. This is an innovative use of Google Earth that isn’t easy to discover on the movie’s Facebook page. The van is arguably the movie’s most recognizable character and the opportunity to get behind the wheel of it — even in a virtual scenario — is a fun engagement vehicle that should be showcased on the page.

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Toy Story 3 | 791,581 Likes
Top Tabs: Wall | Info | Video Game | Fan Board | Tickets (landing tab)
Studio: Disney Pixar | 1,347,406 Likes
Release date: June 18

Disney Pixar movies have an advantage when it comes to Facebook movie marketing, due to the large Facebook communities for both Disney (more than 3.5 million Likes) and Disney Pixar (more than 1 million Likes). Four “Toy Story 3” characters even have their own Facebook pages (Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Buttercup and Lotso) that have larger communities than many summer movies. Disney Pixar also recently launched its Disney Tickets Together Facebook app, so now Facebook users can buy movie tickets without leaving Facebook. The combination of multiple Facebook pages sharing content and promotions with millions of passionate fans allows the box office for Disney Pixar films to, as Woody would say, “reach for the sky.”

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The Twilight Saga: Eclipse | 6,154,389 Likes
Top Tabs: Wall | Info | Eclipse (landing tab) | New Moon | Discussions | Video
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Release date: June 30

Summit Entertainment is not one of the major six movie studios, but it is coming off a Best Picture Oscar for “The Hurt Locker” and big box office receipts for the “Twilight” franchise have the studio howling at the moon. “Twilight” also enjoys one of the largest audiences for any movie on Facebook thanks to the many community-created fan pages and groups dedicated to the movies and characters (e.g. Team Jacob or Team Edward).

But how effective is the Facebook page for “Eclipse” in engaging fans? Let’s look at a typical day in “Eclipse” engagement. On May 12, the page shared eight pieces of content, which generated 60,000 Likes and comments. Much like the immortal characters in the movie, “Twilight” fans have an insatiable thirst for content. And for Facebook users who visit the page, the landing “Eclipse” tab does what all movie pages should do (but often don’t) — link directly to sites where tickets may be purchased online. And only a beloved franchise with ravenous fans could boldly ask viewers to organize a viewing party in their area. Twilight eclipses the rest when it comes to fan engagement and mirrors the massive built-in audience for Disney’s “Toy Story” franchise.

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Despicable Me | 22,822 Likes
Top Tabs: Wall | Info | Win a Minion (landing tab) | Games | Minion Mail | Ringtones
Studio: Universal Pictures | 18,736 Likes
Release date: July 9

The Minions featured in the new animated film “Despicable Me” hope to rival the popularity of Woody or Buzz Lightyear. They have their own Facebook page with more than 68,000 Likes, or three times the number of the movie’s page. “We’re concentrating on building two Facebook communities for the film — one focused on the film and one on the Minion characters from the film,” said Doug Neil, senior vice president of digital marketing at Universal Pictures. “We want to engage our target audience with video clips, trailers, images, games, news stories, activities, etc., that help to drive awareness and interest in the film.”

Regarding content that these communities find most compelling, Neil said that, “Video content — trailers, clips, custom animations, etc. — drive the most engagement and response. There has a been a lot of interest in the Minion Mail cards that have been themed to holidays and milestone events.”

There are varying degrees of experimentation and community-building strategies being deployed on Facebook, but if movie marketers can agree on one thing, it might be the belief that there’s nothing despicable about an engaged audience of minions with a positive message to share in their personal networks.

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Share your favorite movie page on Facebook in the comments below.

Nick Mendoza is the director of digital communications at Zeno Group. He advises consumer, entertainment and web companies on digital and social media engagement. He dreamstreams and is the film correspondent for MediaShift. Follow him on Twitter @NickMendoza.

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