The Facebook data just keeps pouring in. While a lot of investors probably wished they had more data on the shortcomings of Facebook’s business model before the IPO, sometimes a few people have to be sacrificed before a greater lesson is learned.
The latest data from comScore spends less time worrying about how Facebook makes money and more time on how brands are making money on Facebook. In the rush to figure out how good of an ad product Facebook has, word-of-mouth, which has traditionally been seen as the real value of social media marketing for brands, has been brushed under the rug. Today data finally emerged on how earned media stacked up against the latest onslaught of ad products on the world’s most popular social network.
So how well does real earned media do in the days of Sponsored Stories and Promoted Posts?
It turns out that earned media, despite being harder and possibly less sexy from a technology/data perspective, continues to have a much greater impact on tangible consumer behavior than it’s newer hyper-targeted siblings. While the analysis is a little muddled due to comScore’s reluctance to undermine clients (or one of their biggest clients, Facebook) that invest heavily in paid media, the data clearly shows that online word-of-mouth has not only a stronger immediate impact but also increasing efficacy over time.
This probably isn’t news to you if you work in the automotive or consumer electronics field, where word-of-mouth continually ranks above all paid media in factors that influence purchasing decisions. comScore couches some of their findings by also claiming a lift for consumers exposed to paid advertising on Facebook but, given the historical data beyond Facebook, this makes a strong case for greater resource allocation into content and other shareable assets and possibly even a GM-like re-examination of ROI in relation to Facebook’s advertising.
The analysis of the data points out how most brands jump from fan collection to success measurement but points out the importance of “intermediary steps,” like fan reach, engagement and amplification. I’d go so far as to say that those steps are less intermediary and should be the primary focal starting point to any social media program. While getting into all the reasons why fan collection, or network building, isn’t success in and of itself might be another post entirely, it is important to note that, since only about 1-2% of most Facebook fans engage in any way, the “collecting” isn’t as important as giving them something of value that can be shared. 1,000 people “Liking” your post about looking forward to the weekend doesn’t further any kind of a real brand conversation.
Unfortunately, most newer social media marketers measure success by Facebook’s media kit metrics, which will never speak directly to the benefits of organic word-of-mouth even if it is the #1 trackable activity linked to sales and deeper brand connections. The kind of real word-of-mouth that drives these high impact brand connections is messier to measure but it can be done and should be the larger focus of any social media marketing program. Hopefully it won’t take the rug being pulled out from under this industry for it to understand how to measure real value.
I’m going to post a follow-up to this next week that takes a closer look at the shortcomings of the People Talking About This metric since it’s closely related.