A search marketer’s view on Facebook ads

This post by Glenn Engler on DigiDay Daily titled, Facebook Fans are Worthless motivated me to update my neglected blog with my own two cents. I agree with the post on many levels except, perhaps, the title.

I don’t like making blanket statements about one specific tactic, I just don’t. Online trends come and go, but the following statements will never be true:

  • Email marketing is dead
  • Search marketing offers the best return on investment for your media dollars
  • No one watches TV anymore
  • Millennials are the only ones who “get it”
  • No one uses coupons anymore
  • Coupons are the only way to motivate people to shop
  • I could go on…

Absolute conclusions about anything are NEVER true (ha! see how I did that?) I think this is particularly true of absolute conclusions we draw about new media, particularly new online media. Facebook advertising is still in its infancy, after all. Let’s give it some time to grow before we make broad, sweeping statements about its value.

So what’s going on with Facebook advertising? Well, let’s review Glenn’s article point by point:

Glenn: The value of Facebook fans is unclear.
I think this is true of all paid media – even…dare I say…search clicks…

Glenn: Facebook fans want two things – discounts and free stuff.
They probably want more than two things, but the bottom line is they want SOMETHING from you. If you don’t have something to offer – whether that’s a coupon, a kick-ass contest, a free t-shirt or some juicy gossip/news/info, then don’t pay for their love.

Glenn: The value of a Facebook fan is zero.
Very, very, very true. The value of an email subscriber to your in-house list is also zero….until that person buys something. Same with a search click, or a banner view, etc. etc. ad nauseum. I mean, you know, when you look at it on PAPER (or in Google Analytics) these fans can seem worthless. But what about when you factor in stuff like brand recognition, online presence, share of voice, and all the things that contribute to people eventually spending money with you? At this point do we really know what it means when someone bothers to click the “like” button on your page or in your ad? Can every single fan be worthless? I find that hard to believe.

Glenn: The Facebook “like” counter is too distracting for a lot of brands.
This is actually (in my opinion) the strongest part of Glenn’s argument. In short, he argues against putting Facebook at the core of your marketing strategy, but instead incorporating it into a larger strategy that may include lots of other stuff (Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, online communities, blogs, etc.) which will support your brand. I once wrote an article titled, “Google is a tactic, not a strategy” – the same thing goes for Facebook and any other venue/tactic/vendor…the short, short version of this advice? Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, particularly not if you sell sex toys.

Glenn: Facebook fans are not worth anything if you bought them. And they’re certainly not worth anything if you don’t do something with them.
I disagree with this actually – I think you can buy Facebook fans and that these fans can be worth something, but this is mostly true if the fans in question already know/like/love your brand. So, for example, if I’m doing a campaign for Starbucks, then I can target my ads to people who have indicated that they’re fans of Starbucks on Facebook – yes, I know this is sorta cheating but it also highlights the importance of what Glenn’s saying and that brings me to my favorite bit of wisdom in Glenn’s article which actually came from someone who commented…”

Isaac M. Wright (commentator): “The brands with a successful fan base had that base before Facebook — FB just offered a place to say so.”

So true, Isaac, so true!!

Now, to expand my thoughts on the value of a Facebook fan being zero. As I said, above, you can apply that point of view to a number of different scenarios. I mean, if you have 3000 newsletter subscribers and you’re not sending out newsletters, then what’s their value? If you send out two newsletters per week, but ultimately don’t make money from any of those subscribers, then what’s their value? If you spend $175/month paying for Constant Contact and are also not making money from your newsletter subscribers, then they’re actually COSTING you money – and this is where Facebook may actually offer you more value because sending out updates to people who’ve liked your page is, well, it’s free.

Does Facebook replace newsletters? No, I strongly don’t think so and my own personal preference is to receive newsletters from all my favorite stores so that I’m on top of all the sales, coupons and special deals they’re offering. In fact, I rarely Like their pages on Facebook unless there’s some sort of contest involved (Glenn, you were SO right about that!)

As a search marketer, I can say it’s not so different when paying for search clicks. I mean, we’ve always had the issue of SEO vs. PPC in this industry. Should I pay for clicks when I can get listed in Google for free? Of course the answer is often yes because it’s just impossible to get listed in Google organically for every keyword that’s meaningful to you (for most companies – let’s not talk in absolutes here!) Plus, SEO isn’t actually free (but that’s a whole nother post).

One thing I always tell clients when they’re first starting out with paid search is to take a look at their overall online strategy. Is their web site set up in a way that helps to easily convert visitors? Are the keywords they’re bidding on truly relevant to what’s on the site? If not, what do they have to do to make those keywords relevant? Also, what are they going to do with those paid visitors once they get there? These questions aren’t so different from what advertisers need to ask themselves before jumping into a paid Facebook campaign.

(thanks, Glenn, for a great article – this topic has clearly been on my mind for a while)