Facebook’s new advertising strategy and the launch of brand timelines has received no shortage of attention. And deservedly so. The platform is about to reach a billion users and its upcoming IPO could be the largest initial offering ever. Which makes anything Facebook says or does big news.
But the timing of the new brand page announcement to coincide with the upcoming IPO is no coincidence. Obviously Facebook wants to position itself as more relevant than ever to the advertisers who will fuel its future growth.
This appears to be a smart move, as brands need some serious help on Facebook. Despite the fact that most brands have a huge Facebook presence and generate $3.7 billion in annual revenue for the social platform, the dirty little secret is that most people don’t visit brand pages and miss a full 84 percent, at least, of brand posts. Basic math quickly shows that only a tiny percentage of those who’ve acquiesced and granted their coveted like upon a brand pay any attention at all – half a percent of Ford likers pay attention, significantly fewer Old Spice clickers seem to care, and not even a full one percent of Nike fans engage. Why even mega-passion brand Lady Gaga gets just .01 percent of her fans to listen. Likes as currency? Not yet.
The problem of course is that most brands use Facebook the wrong way. They come for the size of the audience more than the social behavior that users exhibit. Marketers show up with old tactics and techniques, posting messages and updates, rather than creating stories that merit attention and embrace the platform for its social qualities.
To its credit, Facebook has worked tirelessly to educate those willing to listen on how to be a social brand, rather than a brand that uses social media. But without much success.
Consider some findings from recent research conducted by Mullen. We surveyed 160 CMOs and discovered that the number one metric for success remains likes. Only 34 percent of companies have even developed a conversation strategy. And by far the majority of content created by social media marketers consists of little more than product promotions and offers.
The thinking behind the Facebook changes is that it might get brands to do a better job at telling stories, creating the kind of content that works in the stream, and learning to earn attention engage more effectively, once and for all eschewing the tendency to broadcast content as Facebook were a TV channel.
The question is whether or not the changes alone will get brands to modify their behavior. Venture Beat reports that, “Facebook’s changes will do a lot to help marketers shift their thinking about social marketing. In particular, it will help them appreciate the power and the effectiveness of the user’s news feed.”
This will wean marketers from apps, forcing their landing page to be the new timeline. But it won’t guarantee that marketers learn to use the news feed effectively.
The only way that can happen is if advertisers stop thinking like advertisers and learn to think more like users themselves. Sharing stuff that’s useful, interesting and makes a contribution to the conversation. (Can you believe we still have to say stuff like that?)
Success will come from handing Facebook over to people who know how to engage in real time, who understand community, and who start their thinking with their users. Traditional media thinking – buying and audience – and creative – let’s make something shiny and clever – may become less effective.
My colleague Sean Corcoran offered some useful suggestions in a recent column.
My suggestions are similar with a few additional guidelines.
1. Learn to earn your way into the newsfeed by creating content that starts conversations or inspires participation.
2. It’s not always about a big, clever creative idea, but about the moment and real time conversation.
3. Master the analytics that will help guide you. Determine who among your community matters, learn what content is working, prioritize the results you want to see. Most importantly, think short term and long term.
4. Be present all the time.
5. Put the right people in place; you need a fast-acting, hybrid team comprised of digital strategy, content production, and community management.
6. Don’t assume that Facebook despite its size is always the answer. I personally believe that as the interest graph platforms (Pinterest, Springpad – where I also work – and others) take off and grow their user populations there will be additional platforms that work better for connecting with people who share your brand’s interests.
The bottom line is simple. Facebook can’t make your ads, or your story, more effective. You have to do that.