Friday, May 25, 2012

The Basics of Facebook Marketing

It’s not new anymore to use social media as a channel in an overall marketing mix. Look around the web, and there’s a plethora of social networks available, from the general and ubiquitous (Facebook) to the niche focus and exclusive (Spotify).

So when you’re considering how to add social media to your own marketing strategy, it’s important to consider what networks are going to help your brand the most.

First off, I’m going to tell you that social media marketing isn’t free, and it takes more time to do well than most people think. You can do it in-house and pay the salary of that person, or you can hire a freelancer or agency to help you manage it. It’s time consuming, because it’s a variant on content marketing, which means generating lots of content, hopefully good content.

So let’s consider the major networks for social media, and how they might help your business. Today, let’s look at the elephant in the room


This is the big one that people think of when they hear the phrase “Social Network.” It’s huge, everyone knows about it, it’s integrated into every corner of the Internet and it’s heading for its IPO.

Marketing on Facebook can take a few different avenues to reach an audience of potential consumers:

Pages: Previously called “Fan Pages,” these are similar to the individual profile pages of users, except that they can be controlled by more than one Administrator. Pages feature a profile image, a cover photo, and a timeline of the company or organization. You can post pictures, links, and status updates to a Page.

Facebook Ads: Like display ads, Facebook ads appear alongside a user’s News Feed and in other relevant locations. They feature a thumbnail and a few lines of copy. You can tailor the content to an audience that is broad or narrowly targeted. Facebook ads have a notoriously poor ROI in terms of clicks, but they are visual and infinitely customizable. Costs for Facebook advertising have also recently risen precipitously.

Working with Pages

Most marketers know what to expect when they buy a print ad to run in the Business section of the New York Times. You’ll get a specific block on a specific page, that you can completely control the creative for (within publisher’s terms, of course), and it will be seen by the people who purchase the paper that day. It’s a very regimented process.

Facebook is anything but regimented. Let’s start with Pages. Like anything else on Facebook, a Page is a living, breathing section of the site, and it requires you to constantly monitor what’s up there. If you don’t put up any content at all, no one will visit the page, or interact with it. So first of all, you have to put up a cover photo, and write in some information about your company/cause/product. In traditional advertising, this would be the end stage, where you’d sit back and measure. But in Facebook, you can’t let anything sit for too long.

If someone “likes” your page, any information you put on that page will show up as an item in that person’s news feed. Depending on how many friends/pages that person subscribes to, your update will be part of a flood of information. Studies have shown that after the initial “like,” most people interact with brands via the news feed updates, rather than returning to visit the page. It’s important to remember not to flood your subscribers with updates, but also not to leave the page completely alone. In the 24 hour cycle of Facebook, leaving a page without any updates for over a few days gives the impression of abandonment, and often users will flee, like rats off a sinking ship.

When using Facebook Pages as part of your marketing mix, treat it as you would your email program. Set up a schedule for posts (some social media tools like Hootsuite even let you schedule posts for the future, automating the process), and also consider what types of posts you will make. Keep your content focused on your brand/product—those are the most effective ways to engage your users. (Stay away from “How was your weekend?” prattle. Users will already hear this over and over from their friends and acquaintances, and doesn’t give them any value from your page.)

A 2011 study found that posting 5-7 times per week on your brand’s Page will only reach 16% of your fans. Remember to keep your content current and on-message.

Working with Ads

Building a Facebook ad is simple, and can be done in minutes. These ads can be hyper-targeted, but are not very customizable. As pictured here, ads are limited to a small square of text and thumbnail image on a white background, in Facebook’s branding style. So you need a picture that will look good in a tiny size; compare the Pop Salad “video” shot with so much going on it’s hard to make out the context with the bright red, simple image of the Dansko clogs in the Zappos ad.

I pulled this screenshot from my Facebook profile, so you can take a guess at what these advertisers are targeting. Elizabeth Warren already knows that I “like” her page, and is hoping to get me to join her campaign on a more active basis. I don’t shop at, so more likely those shoe ads come from targeting women in their early 30s, possibly in the US. The “Approachable Paris” ad most likely targets people who have listed Paris in their interests. (I also have an app listing all the places I’ve been in the world that has Paris tagged.)

So when you are building your ads, and you consider who totarget, think hard about who your audience is. Facebook offers a truckload of information about its users: the site could tell you that I’m married with no children, two advanced degrees, live in Boston, MA, and I love bicycling. It’s hard to get so much data on your email list recipients.

That said, Facebook ads can be very expensive, and aren’t a good match for every business/product. I work for a domain registrar, and I spent half a year tinkering with Facebook ads before realizing I was just wasting my budget. I didn’t get any more clicks that I did from just having a Facebook page in the first place. And also, those ads get expensive very quickly. If your budget is small, you might want to skip Facebook ads and focus on the content development for a Facebook Page instead. Even big budget firms have begun pulling Facebook ads, citing poor return, like General Motors, who yankedtheir $10 million budget for Facebook ads last year. And keep in mind that half of Facebook users never even click on ads at all.

Deciding How to Use Facebook

Like any marketing channel, Facebook has to be carefully examined for your audience in order to be used effectively. Start with the basics:
  • Define your audience (age, location, gender, interest)
  • Is your audience on Facebook? (Even if you don’t buy any ads, you can use the Ads tool to estimate the size of your targeted population on the network.)
  • What kind of content does your audience like? (Look at past efforts to see if they respond more to sales/offers or information or something else)

Once you have this information, start building a plan for using Facebook, first with a Page, and then, if you want to spend the money, on display ads. Make sure to watch those ad campaigns very carefully to make sure you’re not wasting your budget!