So, the prevailing winds are blowing against Facebook. Here’s just one of the current streams – “A poll by the Associated Press and CNBC reveals that 83% of Facebook users report never or hardly ever clicking on ads or sponsored content, despite frequently visiting and spending lots of time on the site, which translates to a conundrum for advertisers.”
This is exactly the kind of uninformed analysis we would expect at this moment in time. It’s the first step in the now-public process of reviewing exactly what Facebook is versus what it is not now that the IPO is done. The fact that display ads are performing poorly on the platform would appear to the uninitiated as conclusive evidence that Facebook is a failure at connecting people with brands, or driving people to actually buy something. But, this theory assumes that Facebook is just like any other web domain, that it’s just another web site. However, dive even one level deeper – let alone into the multitudes of engagement layers currently in play for nearly one billion members – and a far more complex and compelling picture emerges.
We in the industry toss the term “platform” around far too casually. But there’s truthiness as it relates to Facebook. There has never been, nor will there likely be during the next few years, a singular digital environment that offers brands the variety and depth of opportunities to engage with people and enable people to engage with each other – both within as well as outside Facebook. That the media focuses so narrowly on ads simply illustrates that business and media journalists have not bothered to spend the time to understand Facebook as a marketing platform – they still think of Facebook as an advertising venue. It is not – it is a social business, social commerce, social gaming, and social marketing platform. There are dozens of entertaining and immersive ways for brands to engage with Facebook members – ads are simply the easiest to recognize.
In the same way that Facebook has enriched the member experience over the past 5 years, they are similarly building the infrastructure and business models to enable brands to engage members in ways we have not yet imagined. This is where business and marketing magic likely will occur – hence the massive valuation. We’ve seen innovation trickle out within Facebook’s many engagement environments – from in-game commerce, to Timeline, to API integration with Pinterest, Spotify, and dozens of other external environments. In short, brands are now just starting to figure out how to innovate – many leading brands are tasking their agencies to figure this out for them. Laggards, however, just task the purchase of Facebook ads or branded content, and find that like most things in life, you get what you pay for.
It’s time to be bold. Truly innovative brands, in concert with or pushed by their agency partners, will exploit the network effects of Facebook’s social graph to create real brand impact. Now public, there is no reason to believe Facebook will not continue the march toward creating even better opportunities for brands to create disruption.
As an agency planner watching all of this unfold, it’s clearly too early to reach any conclusions. I would caution brand marketers from believing the current anti-Facebook hype. Conventional wisdom among savvy marketers (brands and agencies alike) is the opposite – that we are still in the early days of understanding how and why Facebook is a brand engagement platform, not just another vehicle for advertising.
So, don’t buy the rhetoric that Facebook is tanking because GM pulled funding for display ads on the platform. Challenge your internal marketing leaders – and your digital agency partners to define what digital influence really means to your brand. Task them to rank every digital environment on its ability to influence brand sentiment, engage in relevant and immersive activity, or propagate positive sentiment about your brand or product. And dare them to find a better digital space to be bold. I’ll bet they’ll still bet on Facebook.