Wednesday, June 13

Measuring Facebook: Social Network Ads

The Wall Street Journal reports that 70 percent of Facebook campaigns return three to five times the spending; five times the cost for nearly half. The internal reporting, which was released by Facebook, comes after the "quiet period" after an initial public offering ended.

The study was completed by comScore and included tracking 60 campaigns. What is less understood is how those campaigns were chosen and whether they represent the larger share of ad purchases on the social network. Another interesting hiccup in the study is what is considered a return — mostly, the measurement was based on amplification, showing Facebook extends media exposure between 50 percent and 200 percent.

Why do many marketers still distrust Facebook and social media ad purchases?

The biggest challenge with social media marketing remains the same. Many critics attempt to apply rules to social media advertisements that aren't fair when compared to other reporting measures.

Specifically, they attempt to measure return on investment in a vacuum, as if impressions can be isolated and quantified without considering the "social" portion of the equation. Others fail to measure the right outcomes, thinking about "likes" as the outcome even though it's better to assign an outcome to anything but likes. (They just make you feel good and give you a readership base.)

If you want an analogy to better understand Facebook advertising, think of it in terms as an introduction to publication with "likes" being subscribers. But much like magazine subscribers, it's silly to expect that every subscriber is going to read every stitch of content from cover to cover and see every direct response ad. Results vary and the variance isn't decided by the publication alone. It could be anything, ranging from the content of your advertisement to what people see when they land on the page.

Besides, different advertising works differently on Facebook. While most marketers invest considerable time on prospect advertisements (filtering out people who already like a page), other advertisements could target people who already like the page — you know, people who already gave you a wink and a nod or perhaps a share.

That's part of the problem with social network advertising now. Marketers have become so accustomed to gaining numbers that they forget about the people who are already there, waiting around for something to happen even if it isn't ever going to happen. In many cases, underperforming Facebook ads/pages are often the result of not producing anything valuable (whether content or coupon) for the people there, leaving people with an empty feeling: "Okay, I 'liked' your page, now what?"

Facebook advertising works well enough for hyper-targeting efforts. 

After running Facebook ad campaigns for a number of companies, the only common ground is that there is no common ground. Each presence deserves its own objectives. For example, running a campaign to shore up locals to visit a restaurant is very different than attempting to target tourists.

It doesn't even matter what type of cuisine you are talking about (although there is a way to focus in on those folks too). To drive more locals, the ad needs to target proximities. To drive more out-of-town guests, you might need to target people who love visiting the town.

Conversely, most restaurants only target people who have an expressed interest in a specific kind of food. But the reality, in most cases, is people who have an expressed interest in a specific kind of cuisine are already entrenched with one, two, or three restaurants of that kind. If you want to penetrate that market and cause conversations, then you have to be prepared to offer them something more than their favorite restaurant.

At the same time, looking at outcomes, one also has to appreciate that if your goal is to drive more visitors to your restaurant then it stands to reason that the local targeting is a short-term investment and tourist marketing is a long-term investment, e.g., once-a-month visitors as opposed to once-a-year visitors.

Along with deep thinking, marketers need to appreciate that Facebook advertising works best as part of an add-on campaign element anyway. While there have been a few Facebook-only campaign successes, the majority of companies seeing returns are those that use social networks as an add on. Ergo, if you produce a television advertisement, post it on Facebook and ask for feedback. A percentage of people who have subscribed to the page will likely share it and some of their friends might share it too.

The lowbrow measurement is that if 1,000 of the 10,000 people who like a page see the ad and 100 of them share it, then that return is better for the few seconds it takes to upload the video than the return of not sharing it. If you can increase that outcome by running an advertisement to that video post, all the better.

Likewise, someone finding your Facebook page on a search is probably better than someone not finding your Facebook page on a search (unless your page sucks). And keeping people who do like your restaurant up to date on special events, menus, introductions, etc. is better than not doing it.

Certainly, Facebook is not the end all to a successful marketing campaign. But marketers need to step back a little bit more and consider the bigger picture. When comparing something to nothing, something is always better. The rest is dependent on what you want to do and how you prioritize it.

In other words, the jury might still be out on Facebook in terms of an investment, but it terms of whether their advertising can be a benefit is already decided. What isn't decided is whether or not companies have good enough teams to maximize a return on the effort.
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