A few days ago, I heard the following statement, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it: ”A business not being on Facebook is like a business not having a website”. We’ve all read pieces that emphasize the importance of businesses small, medium-sized, and large alike having a well-developed Facebook presence. We’ve also read pieces that stress Facebook is no more than a tool, and like every other tool, it makes sense for some businesses and doesn’t make sense for others.
I think likening an absence on Facebook to an absence on the web is a bold (and inaccurate) comparison, but I wanted to delve deeper into the pros and cons of Facebook marketing. What are the arguments for investing in a Facebook marketing strategy? What are the arguments against investing? I accumulated all the evidence I could find on both sides, and here it is:
On the social landscape that is Facebook:
Facebook provides instant access to a large amount of people. The site has over one billion users. The average user spends 405 minutes on Facebook per month. One of every five page views is on Facebook. What better way to reach people than through a medium that they frequently access?
A massive number of people are on Facebook, yes. But what are they there to do? Facebook was founded to facilitate social connections, to bring people closer together. It wasn’t founded to bring people and businesses closer together, and that interaction between friends, family, peers (and sometimes acquaintances) is still Facebook’s raison d’etre. People log onto Facebook to post pictures, write on walls, stay up-to-date with all of their friend’s happenings, etc. They log onto the site for downtime, and the site as a whole is an amalgamation of people’s personal lives. Can all businesses really click with this informal, sociable vibe and organically integrate themselves into the personal lives of their target audience?
On the value of a Facebook like:
The main reason for having a Facebook account may be to interact with others, but brands still fit into the mix in some way, because 87% of people like brands on Facebook. Of those who like brands, 82% say Facebook is a good place to interact with brands, and 35% feel brands listen to them more on Facebook. The desire to connect with brands is there, and businesses would be foolish not to capitalize on this.
Just because someone likes a brand on Facebook doesn’t mean they have any intention to buy from that brand. In fact, 46% of people like brands but have no intention to buy from them: some people simply want a free item; some like brands but can’t afford their products; and some like brands to help out a friend. In fact this whole issue of “liking” speaks to a larger issue: often businesses use likes, comments, and shares to gauge the effectiveness of their social media marketing efforts. But does a like even mean anything? What do likes really measure? A like doesn’t give a business any definitive clue into a consumer’s purchasing intention. If a Facebook business page has thousands of likes but only a small percentage of people spend (or plan to spend) money on the products/services offered by said business, do likes mean anything? Unless likes ultimately translate into money, they don’t mean much.
It’s also worth examining why people like brand pages.
- 36.9% of people like a page because they want special offers/deals
- 32.9% are current customers
- 18.2% like the interesting/entertaining content a brand puts out
- 6.2% have friends who are fans of the brand
- 5% want access to service, support, or product news (Source)
Other research says that the biggest motivators in liking a brand on Facebook are promotions/discounts and free giveaways. In fact, coupons/promotions/discounts are the types of Facebook content most preferred by 80% of consumers. If the majority of a business’ likes are composed of people who want access to special offers, is this really valuable? Are these people those long-term, loyal customers that will continually bring a business money, or are they people whose aims are much more shortsighted and who sporadically purchase only when a compelling offer is presented? What type of consumers does a Facebook campaign attract, and if it doesn’t attract long-term customers, does the return on investment justify the time and money needed to conduct it?
On the website vs. Facebook debate:
50% of people say a brand’s Facebook page is more useful than its website.
50% of people say a brand’s website is more useful than its Facebook page.
On word-of-mouth marketing:
Facebook directly impacts people’s purchasing behavior: when people like a brand, they are more likely to buy from said brand, consider the brand when in the market for a product, and recommend the brand to others. This peer recommendation is especially important, because word-of-mouth marketing is arguably the most effective type of marketing. People trust recommendations from peers above all other forms of advertising. Also, even if Facebook doesn’t attract incredibly loyal customers, can’t brand growth also be attained by reaching a large number of light and medium buyers?
Facebook may certainly be conducive to word-of-mouth marketing, but the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Research from Keller Fay shows that 90% of consumer conversations about brands and companies still happen in the offline world; three-quarters happen face-to-face. The group points out that dismissing the importance of these face-to-face interactions while zeroing in on creating a “Facebook strategy” isn’t too savvy; it cites Paul Adams, Global Head of Brand Design at Facebook, who advises that businesses orient around people and map to human behavior rather than technology.
On personalization and PTAT:
Facebook offers advertising that is targeted and personal, and personalized campaigns consistently and overwhelmingly beat out static campaigns in generating responses. Promoted Posts allow businesses to direct ads to the extended social networks of their current fans.
Buddy Media analyzed the impact of 2011 holiday retail promotions amongst fans and friends of fans.
It found that friends of fans visit retailer websites almost as frequently as fans. It’s a compelling example of the effectiveness of Facebook promoted posts, and Facebook makes it easy for brands to tap into the power of this behavioral similarity.
Persuasive evidence aside, self-hosted websites will always trump Facebook, because of two words: digital sharecropping. This refers to building an online business on someone else’s virtual land, and Copyblogger recently wrote a post that explains why sharecropping on Facebook is a precarious practice. The main point: becoming dependent on Facebook as the primary tool through which to reach and interact with customers is incredibly risky. The relationship between a business and Facebook isn’t a two-way street (Facebook is a publicly traded company; it owes businesses who have pages absolutely nothing). Businesses need a âhome base,â a primary site that they control and where they set the rules.
Facebook can be useful for certain businesses, but is it really comparable to (or even on the same level with) a website?
Another thing worth noting: Facebook users spend the majority of their time in the news feed. On first glance, this sounds like good news for brands: they can create engaging content, which people will see when they peruse their news feeds. It’s not so simple, though. Because of Facebook’s EdgeRank (its news feed sorting algorithm), the content a brand puts out will not reach every single fan. The closest a brand can get to assessing its Facebook engagement is the People Talking About This (PTAT) measurement. However, as Social Bakers points out, because PTAT includes fan growth (the numbers of new fans in the last seven days), it can be easily “gamed”. Brands with poor engagement can have a high PTAT measurement through fan growth.
What side do you fall on? Are you somewhere in the middle?