Facebook has the potential to change the way marketing works, but the largest social network seems to have become reliant on more traditional advertising formats providing little added value.

Facebook Backing away from Social Marketing?

Brand-customer interaction on Facebook ought to be clearly superior to the more traditional media because –in theory at least – companies can both share information with and receive feedback from customers. Now however a report from independent technology and market research company Forrester, entitled Why Facebook Is Failing Marketers, suggests that this may after all be only a theoretical advantage. The report indicates that this kind of connection is in fact rarely created.  Although Fan Pages attract subscribers to the brand, brand posts are only visible on average to just 16% of the page’s audience. And while Facebook updates its paid-for targeting tools on a regular basis, it is apparently making very little effort to improve the fan pages format or ways of measuring audiences. The Forrester report therefore concludes that Facebook no longer promotes ‘social marketing’ but has instead become a seller of traditional advertising space, and is therefore proving  less effective than had been expected.

Value added compares poorly with other channels

Following its survey of a large sample of marketing professionals – 395 from the US, the UK, and Canada – Forrester concludes that in general the value created by using social networks is less than that created by a brand’s own website, search ads, emailing, display ads or mobile marketing. Moreover, Facebook comes bottom of the list of social networks in this area, with LinkedIn, YouTube, Google + and Twitter all ahead. The marketers polled underlined the fact that on Facebook these marketing support and measurement tools have not been making sufficient progress, whereas Google, LinkedIn and Yahoo are all seen as more intuitive and able to offer more effective support. The report’s authors recommend that marketers avoid spending with Facebook and instead equip their brand’s own site with social tools. Despite the fact that the audience which marketers are hoping to attract is on Facebook, the authors nevertheless encourage firms to trust their own website to create communities, tell the brand story and receive and respond to remarks and comments from customers. In short, reckons Forrester, a brand’s own site is the best place to encourage online visitors to engage with the brand in a meaningful way.

Trend towards Real-Time Bidding

While Facebook has assembled a huge cache of ‘affinity data’, Google is nevertheless today the company which is most adept at interpreting this kind of data. In spite of the fact that Facebook has set up a task force to focus on this area, it is the giant from Mountain View which seems to have come out on top in this particular duel, notwithstanding the recent announcement of a deal between the advertising arms of the two Internet behemoths that will enable customers of Google’s DoubleClick online ad-placement service to purchase re-targeted ads on the Facebook Exchange (FBX) marketing platform. The report predicts however that Facebook may soon be trimming its advertisement spaces, especially its ‘right rail’ display ads. Forrester sees a trend towards building a real-time bidding type of marketplace where direct marketing specialists can buy high volumes of ads very cheaply.  With millions of retailers ready to spend in order to interact with customers and prospects, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google + might therefore be able to cash in on a gap in the market left by Facebook. However, these rival networks do not yet appear to have their tools up and running. This move seems long overdue, and the Forrester experts do not think they will have very much more time to prove that they can offer the genuine social engagement that Facebook has so far failed to provide, and that this engagement can generate real commercial value.

By Pierre-Marie Mateo