Friday, October 1, 2010

MEDIAPOST: Time For Facebook to Face The Music

Last week Facebook made some minor news by announcing they would be discontinuing their conversion-tracking tool for performance advertising. I was a bit surprised by how few people read between the lines of this announcement; the fact that the only reason Facebook would discontinue this effort must be they found their users don’t convert!

I’ve run a number of Facebook ad buys for brands, driving consumers to follow or like the brand and those are stellar in their performance. I’ve also had clients run campaigns to drive conversion to other off-Facebook activity such as coupons and CRM registrations and surprisingly these campaigns have worked really well, but if Facebook saw that kind of positive performance across the board don’t you think they’d keep the tool alive and start promoting the results? It’s also a tad bit funny because it’s a brilliant PR move to announce they’re shuttering the service the same week that Mark Zuckerberg announces he’s giving $100MM to Newark schools because no-one wants to blast the guy while he’s helping kids with their education needs. I guess that makes me the bad guy (oh well).

Facebook’s challenge is they want to be something more than they are. Facebook has carved out an incredible place in the eco-system of the Internet; simply put, they own social media. There is no other portal, site or platform that can compare from a gross user perspective nor from the depth of which they’re ingrained in the daily life of the average Internet user (other than Google, but in a different way). People complain that Facebook is “too big” or that it is “too powerful” but that’s what mass brand advertisers want! They want big. They want influential. They want powerful! Facebook needs to understand that they may not be a performance buying opportunity but very may well have the world’s largest brand platform ever created! Facebook can build a brand (and so can Mark Zuckerberg).

I call this out because it’s not a bad thing. There are lots of ways that performance marketers can use the web to drive actionable, immediate results. Facebook is not one of them (Google owns that realm). There is data to suggest that a Facebook user is valuable and a number of these have been published. On the low end, Adam Ostrow, on Mashable, puts the value at $1.40 per user. Others put it far higher. From my humble perspective it is significantly more valuable. Where else can a user express their desire to hear from a brand or service on a regular basis, possibly even every single day, and not get annoyed? Even if you factor in some level of annoyance, and assume a 10% attrition rate of users who unlike your brand, the value is far higher than $1.40. Does that mean the platform is going to drive an immediate conversion to a customer somewhere else? Not really. Does it imply that the platform can be significantly more influential than a traditional email blast or standard ad campaign and have stronger, long-term results? Yes!

And let’s not forget that traditional CRM has a cost attached to it while blasting out messages on Facebook does not. Until Facebook decides to start charging brands for messaging to consumers, this is still the single most effective way to engage a consumer who has expressed interest.

You also can reach targeted users, similar to your customers, and even those who are friends of your customers. That’s a powerful tool for developing your audience, though admittedly not in the first exposure. It takes (strike me down for saying this now) frequency to break through the clutter and get your target to listen and pay attention. Facebook provides that simply by the fact the audience comes back often, even daily. You may have to be more creative in how you use the platform, but banners and text ads and Facebook pages are only the beginning. With absolutely no inside knowledge, I can guarantee these will not be the only tools for mass brand advertisers on Facebook in the next 18 months.

So it comes as no surprise to me that Facebook shut down its conversion tracking system, but it will surprise me if Facebook doesn’t face the music and make a concerted push in the next few months to proclaim its value to brands. If they miss this opportunity, they shoot themselves in the foot in the long term. We now know that Facebook is not a place for direct response, performance based advertisers en masse. But that’s ok!

And yes, thank you Mark Zuckerberg for giving those kids a ray of hope in an otherwise cloudy environment (maybe that means I won’t be viewed as the bad guy for calling you out and maybe people won’t hate you after they see the David Fincher movie).

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