Brands shifting all or most of their digital marketing and social media marketing efforts to Facebook are going to lose and perhaps big. Yes, there are 900 million users there. Yes, the IPO is coming and an influx of cash and becoming a publicly traded company will bring with it many benefits that will strengthen what Facebook is. Yes, Facebook will continue to be an ever-present social utility for years to come.
But there are more concerns than cocktail parties on the horizon for the behemoth, I’m afraid. And those concerns directly effect brands investing their time, attention and dollars in Facebook. The problem is now that Facebook must make money to sustain its investor’s satisfaction, it must rely on its only scalable and reliable business model: That of a media property where brands want to advertise.
Rebecca Greenfield’s piece for The Atlantic spells it out pretty nicely. She writes that there are two kinds of Facebook advertisers: the ones that want metrics and the ones that want attention. The problem for both is that Facebook’s Zuckerberg-inspired ethos doesn’t care if either gets what they want.
Facebook has built a 900-million person gorilla, so they know advertisers will flock to them. Marketers always want a piece of the action when eyeballs are involved. But Zuckerberg’s philosophy is that advertising should be more organic, relevant and unobtrusive. Their new advertising options herd marketers to buy sponsored stories and softer appeal opportunities. While one could argue this might be a better way to get in front of people’s attention, it’s also less definitive on value.
Facebook wants advertisers to share good content, not good deals and discounts. Advertisers are generally very bad at content and just want to plaster coupons all over the network. Even if advertisers were good at content, the audience-centric nature of good content means there are fewer calls-to-action, fewer direct benefits to the company and, thus, metrics that leave a lot to be desired compared to what companies have seen in other mediums in the past.
The other type of advertiser Greenfield outlines — the one that wants attention — is just S.O.L. Facebook is so big and funded and ready to cash in on the next week’s big IPO, they don’t care to answer the phone. If you’re not already in touch with an ad rep there, good luck finding one. They don’t need you right now.
But that attitude is going to befell them soon.
With organic content not delivering the metrics brands want, the ones that are paying now will stop. With Facebook acting as if they don’t need to be responsive to those calling wanting to place media buys, the ones not advertising now won’t likely want to much longer. Sure, 900 million people can’t be wrong and someone will throw their money at Facebook once given the opportunity, but it’s not a long-term, sustainable way of doing business.
Facebook’s users, meanwhile, are generally averse to advertising, like they are everywhere else. Facebook ad click through averages are half of typical online advertising and less than 25% of what most SEO experts would recommend as a target for Pay-Per-Click advertising on search engines. The sponsored stories aren’t going to change that much. Zuckerberg will have created a fantastic social network and utility that everyone wants to use, but one that can’t sustain advertising revenue.
The do-advertising-our-way effort won’t work if Facebook cannot either A) Help advertisers see positive metrics and returns on their advertising investment or B) Suck up to anyone willing to spend money with them.
But then there’s the simple fact that people on Facebook are not interested in your ads. They’re not going to be interested in your sponsored stories, either. People don’t go to Facebook to engage with your brand. They go to Facebook to see pictures of their grandchildren, stalk their exes and play Farmville. A select few seek out a higher purpose and participate in groups, have conversations and the like, but advertising is noise among the signal. And Zuckerberg’s ethos won’t change that.
Facebook is a great place for a brand to facilitate customer service, engage customers or prospects in research and development-type conversations and perhaps even share some coupons or discounts from time-to-time. It can be a place where positive, measurable outcomes occur. But that is going to be a challenge for any brand simply because people don’t want to engage with companies, logos or buildings. They want to engage with people.
There are far too many companies putting all their eggs in Zuckerberg’s basket right now. From advertising to building brand pages and running promos, everyone wants a piece of that 900-million-person pie. Never mind that email marketing produces over $40 per dollar spent return on investment. Never mind that a strong corporate blog with keyword-rich posts helps you drive organic search results that send 8-12 times as much traffic as pay-per-click ads. Never mind that mediums like radio and television still produce higher sales and awareness results in shorter times than social media can even hope for.
Marketers are helping Facebook build a modern day Tower of Babel, hoping to touch the face of the revenue gods. And soon, the revenue gods will become angry and everyone, including Facebook, will suffer.
Don’t put all your eggs in that basket.
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