Is Facebook a Brand Platform?

For some companies, of course, the question in the headline has an obvious answer. What I’m wondering, though, is if that’s all Facebook can be. With a fairly weak advertising product, constraints on reaching your target market and flexibility that’s limited by the platform, the social media platform doesn’t give marketers much to work with. So, if you’re looking to promote your company, is Facebook really only a brand play?

Let’s step through this.

As a marketer, I’m interested in two things: making people in my target market aware of my company and getting them to do something that leads to revenue for it. Yep, in marketing parlance it’s brand and direct response. Some environments are good for one or the other, while others can handle both.

When it comes to Facebook, the conventional wisdom, such as it is, seems to be that both brand and direct response are possible. You use community to generate some awareness and loyalty, and then you provide opportunities for your market to engage with you financially. The problem is that Facebook makes it incredibly difficult for you to do this.

Let’s start with brand.

Yes, there are 600 million people on Facebook. And we all know that’s a hell of a lot of people. So, it’s natural to think that you can make people aware of your company pretty easily in this environment. It’s easy to maintain this belief until you actually try to do it.

How do you get people to your Facebook page? How do you get them to click the “like” button?

It’s not that easy, especially from within Facebook. You can invite people to like you, but that can lead to the alienation of your target market. Blind invitations aren’t pleasant. Sometimes, it’s even annoying when they come from people you know. You could always use Facebook ads with a “like” call to action, but that takes time and money, and it still may not work. Given the nature of the ad product, you’ll struggle to accumulate fans.

The best way to grow your community is organically. Your core members recommend it to their friends, who jump on board. The problem with this approach is that you are at the mercy of your members, and you have to work your butt off to make them love you. It’s time-consuming and expensive in a soft-dollar way. And, it’s like trying to swallow the ocean one gulp at a time.

Good luck with that.

You could always grow your Facebook presence by sending people to your page from outside the environment. This is probably the best way to go … but you’re no longer using your Facebook page to build brand awareness in front of a large audience. Rather, you’re using conventional marketing to build awareness of your brand on Facebook.

And this is what takes us into the direct response conversation.

If you have to market outside Facebook to grow on Facebook, then you definitely need a way to turn your Facebook community into revenue. After all, brand needs to lead to bucks. If you have a product that lends itself to online purchase, this could be particularly effective. Active Facebook users can respond to your offers and fill your coffers. Many companies have made this work. But, you need a sufficient population of fans that is active enough with your brand for the direct response model to drive returns, especially as a percentage of total revenue. I’ve only have a bit of anecdotal information on this, but from what I’ve heard, Facebook doesn’t seem to be making a material difference yet.

But, you could always use your Facebook presence to reinforce the brand and drive off-line or subsequent online purchases not driven from Facebook.

Which brings us back to brand again … and all the challenges that brand marketers face on the platform.

In the end, it seems like Facebook could be an interesting part of your marketing mix if you invest outside of Facebook in getting fans and deliver an incredible user experience on your Facebook page. This requires a substantial investment with a comparatively low potential for ROI. In the end, you’re left wondering if Facebook marketing is really worth it.

This is the principal impediment to the maturation of Facebook in the marketing mix.

Facebook’s time is likely to come, along with that of Twitter and other social media marketing tools. For now, however, big bets relative to the rest of the marketing mix probably aren’t a good idea.

 

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