I should probably preface this post by saying that I’ve never been impressed with Facebook as a technology or a form of media. When you deconstruct Facebook, there are very few Facebook features that aren’t executed better somewhere else. Photo sharing is weak at best compared to Flickr and others. The new location-based services are a shadow of Gowalla and Foursquare. Even status updates as a microblogging platform are lagging behind Friendfeed, a company Facebook acquired a long time ago. In fact, aside from the default news feed algorithm, I can’t point to one thing that Facebook does better than anyone else. Yet nothing really compares to it’s user base and a social network is ultimately defined by its user base so Facebook wins. For now.
However, as a marketing platform, no one can convince me that Facebook is anything but a watered down form of CRM. There were three stories that I came across this week that really irked me and, judging by the fact that I came across them through trusted sources, have convinced me that Facebook is actually making marketers stupid.
Case #1: Hitwise, a company full of great tech and smart people, reported that Facebook had passed Google as the most visited Web site of 2010 (8.93% of all US visits vs Google’s 7.19%). It seems a little fishy but I don’t completely doubt it. What bothers me was the reaction to this news by many respected marketers. While I have no interest in calling anyone out, a quick stroll through the marketing blog echochamber (i.e. the AdAge Power 150) will show you that many used this stat to add more credibility to their often bloated Facebook marketing programs. More visitors, more eyeballs…the age old recipe for online advertising success. What’s not to understand?
My problem is that it ignores behavior. Someone on Google is looking, literally searching, for something and when you’re marketing to them there based on keywords you’re reaching someone who is extremely receptive to your message if it matches their criteria. It’s someone with a question that is looking for an answer.
In the case of Facebook, users are, for the most part, just killing time. They’re browsing photos or reading status updates or occasionally playing a game. They’re not shopping, looking for specific information, researching something or doing anything else that makes them particularly receptive to advertiser messaging. Sure, they may click a Like button here and there but the general behavior doesn’t match someone who is receptive to changing their car insurance or shifting their sentiment about an airline. In the grand scheme of online media, a Facebook user is as close to couch potato as you can get without actually turning on your TV and putting your feet up.
Passing Google in total visitors in the US does not make Facebook a better marketing platform than the most trusted search engine in the world.
Case #2: The story that Pampers sold out of 1,000 discounted diapers in one hour through an e-commerce gateway on Facebook. There was a lot of foaming at the mouth on this one and, since it’s a P&G, there’s no doubt that every consumer packaged goods brand took notice and used it to get the wheels in motion to sell “directly” through Facebook.
While it’s generally hard to argue with sales, I think you can make a pretty good argument against the user flow on Pamper’s little e-commerce engine on Facebook. You first make your way to the FBML “Shop Now” tab on the Pampers page, which is essentially a splash page (a roadblock on an e-commerce site?). Clicking the “Shop Now” button on that page (I have to do this twice?) actually opens a new window for a Pamper’s branded Amazon Web store app. As you move through the sales cycle, you actually get thrown back out into Amazon.com to finish the transaction.
So what was the purpose of being in the Facebook environment in the first place, other than to compromise the user experience and limit my shopping options (vs Amazon.com)? If Pampers can sell 1,000 diapers in an hour through a crippled e-commerce platform, imagine how fast they could sell through a streamlined experience that actually showcased their product in the best possible light without having to compete with Facebook’s nav?
Case #3: Maybe I’m a little sensitive to metrics and terminology but the story that really got me this past week was a Mashable post touting the importance of Likes for brands. The POV used a video from Kraft Foods/Oreo taken from a GasPedal event that was maddeningly titled “How Oreo Learned to Fish Where the Fish Are.” Oreo is a brand that has a lot of genuine affinity among consumers so I won’t argue that Facebook is a worthless platform for them but I will argue against a point that’s made at about 1:40 into the video as the set up for their whole program.
The statement was “Facebook has really become the de facto brand destination,” which was followed by an example regarding Starbucks. You see, Starbucks, as per this claim, has about 995 thousand monthly visitors to Starbucks.com and roughly 12 million Facebook fans. According to the most recent data I can find, about 20% of Facebook users are active on the monthly basis, which is pretty high compared to other community sites. So, over the course of the month, about 2.4 million “fans” might engage with Oreo on Facebook. If the average Facebook user has about 130 friends and the average user who friends brands has around 200 friends, then what are the chances that any Starbucks content appears in your default feed? Let’s be generous and say that the News Feed algorithm filters content from all but 30% of your friends and Likes, even though probably even less make it through for an account with 200+ friends. That now brings the number of people that are exposed to your messaging to around 700,000. So my question is that would you rather have 700,000 people possibly exposed to your message in their News Feed on a third party site or would you rather have 995,000 come to your Web site where you can collect information, sell product and have almost no restrictions on engagement?
I don’t mean to suggest that all Facebook marketing is worthless. In fact, I think it’s a great communications tool for a lot of brands, even with the obvious scaling problems. My problem is with strategy that is fueled by bad measurement and a misunderstanding of established user experience standards. While Facebook and social media marketing may be comparatively young, that’s not an excuse to throw out everything online marketers have learned over the past 15 years.