With around 845 million active users, and the kind of detailed personal info that most marketers would kill to get their hands on, Facebook should already be delivering advertising with pinpoint accuracy.
But until now the site has resisted calls for banner adverts, limiting brands to eminently missable static ads on the right hand side of the page. They’ve instead been encouraged to sign up for Facebook pages. To date, some 30 million have obliged.
How to get users to like brand pages, and so receive status updates - about products, events, offers of new apps - has been the main focus of marketing efforts so far.
To this end, Facebook has been integral to some of the most inventive campaigns in recent years, from Marmite’s Love Hate ‘election’
– which managed to secure half a million fans over six weeks - to the widely celebrated Old Spice Guy. Arguably, however, the social network was simply one useful channel in a major cross-platform campaign.
The introduction of Facebook Connect in 2010 brought more personalisation and interaction, allowing marketers to launch campaigns like Lynx Excite’s Fallen Angel
(which gave 18-24-year-old lads a personal message from Kelly Brook) and games such as Nike’s Zlatan Zuperfly.
But brands are now realising that it’s one thing building up ‘likes’, and another turning those communities into brand advocates who provide them with earned media – that all important word of mouth.
A recent survey by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute revealed just 1% of users engage with the 200 biggest brands on Facebook. The metric used for this survey was the ‘People Talking About This’ measure, which remains one of toughest numbers to influence. PTAT doesn’t record offline engagement, but when you combine this stat with the finding that on average only 16% of brand status updates appear in fans’ newsfeeds, it’s not surprising that some have begun to wonder whether building up those likes was worth the effort.
Some small budget campaigns have bucked the trend on PTAT though. Tourism Australia came up with the virtual great boomerang throw
to get Facebook users talking about gap years in Australia, upping their PTAT stat by 230% in the process and demonstrating that talk can be cheap.
So what’s next? Facebook Premium…
Facebook’s $5 billion public float marks a new era for the company. It will have to be much more ruthless about delivering profits. In March, the company held its first-ever marketing conference in New York, where it announced that it will begin serving adverts to its 425 million mobile users, but it also unveiled a new range of premium ad products including Sponsored Stories, Featured Stories and Reach Generator.
Facebook has a lot hanging on Sponsored Stories. Whenever a friend of yours checks into a Pizza Express or likes a new Channel 4 programme, those events can be turned into an advertisement on your own page. At the crossroads of paid and earned media, Facebook is counting on these trusted referrals to drive revenues.
Add that to the Reach Generator, a tool to ensure status updates on a brand’s Facebook page reach more than the 16% of newsfeeds they currently appear in, and the platform is finally accommodating brands’ requirements for reliable and measurable campaigns.
There’s no question that Facebook users will be seeing a lot more ads in future, and their reaction to this will be decisive, especially in the mobile space where ads can seem like an invasion of privacy.
Marketers know that bombarding fans is the fastest way for them to ‘unlike’ you, but if brands keep creating innovative content, the accuracy and increased reach of Facebook Premium should ensure it remains a very powerful platform for connecting, not just with fans, but all of their friends too.