Are Marketers Abusing Facebook?

Marketers are toying with the trust of consumers for what might be not much benefit.

What are we doing on Facebook?

Really, have we ever taken a step back, turned down the noise, and asked ourselves on a strategic level what we’re doing on Facebook and why we’re doing it? More importantly, is it worth it?

To strip things down to basics, as a brand, the point of having a social media presence or campaign is to open a two-way conversation, strengthen your relationship with your current or potential customers, and please your customers so much that they become your ambassadors, leading their own friends to you. A brand can be a company. It can be a product. It can even be a person – after all, everybody is their own brand.

It’s a wonderful concept – be open and transparent, and your customers will love you so much, that you’ll get free referrals.

Like any basic and wonderful concept, things get convoluted over time. Marketers can now run full applications on Facebook. Now brands have things like contests and games integrated right into Facebook. To participate in these things, oftentimes brands will make their customers agree to things like posting ads on their timelines or having the brand post on their behalf, even when the customer is offline. The conversation is now back in the marketer’s control. Things have gotten invasive for the Facebook user. The customer went from feeling like a part of the process to being used, even if the customer is getting something in return.

On the marketer’s side, they might not even know if their time and effort was worth it. Running a contest or offering a coupon for a “like” seems all good and swell, but measuring the effectiveness of a social media campaign is very difficult. How much is a Facebook “like” really worth? A “like” for a coupon or entry doesn’t exactly turn a customer into a brand ambassador. You can’t even guarantee that the user will be a paying customer in the future. To marketers, social networking seems like a great deal – it’s a hub for customers to like what you do and get other people to like it too. But, now, users are getting desensitized to posts from brands and at the same time getting stingy with their privacy settings.

Okay then, what about ads? Facebook has a very targeted ad network. Brands are starting to discover that these ads are very expensive and are questioning their worth (GM being the most notable company pulling ads). The click-through rate of Facebook ads is only 0.148%. Google’s click-through rate is 2%, and while not as targeted as Facebook’s ads at this time, is getting much closer (if only Google+ would take off). To throw gas on the fire, Facebook has recently admitted that around 83 million accounts are fake.

To recap, brands are becoming invasive and ads are, on average, ineffective. So where does that leave us?

This brings me to my initial question: what are we doing on Facebook? That is to say, what should marketers be doing on Facebook?

During my research, I’ve found that Facebook is most effective when brands respect the two-way communication in between brand and customer. The more simple the brand keeps it, the more likely customers will be ambassadors. If a brand wants to use Facebook users as ad blasters in return for something, that’s exactly the type of ambassador they’ll get. Users will only return when there’s something in it for them, if at all. Depending on the offer, this might be a decent one-time sales technique, but that’s not really the point of social media. If a brand really wants a customer to be an ambassador, how about this – don’t ask for anything in return. Let the Facebook user participate, with or without a like, without turning that user into an adbot. If you want to see an example of a company doing it right, check out Columbus’ own Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. It’s an active fan page with very passionate consumers, and it’s not just because Jeni’s makes the best ice cream ever (look, now I’m an ambassador).

Brands should definitely stay engaged with Facebook. I would never suggest otherwise.

I imagine Facebook as a park. Brands can go in the park, mingle with everybody and enjoy the park too. Or, brands can go in the park, hand out leaflets, shout into a megaphone, and litter everywhere. Which way will make the brand more friends?

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