Marketers who buy ads on Facebook are more focused on building brand awareness than accumulating fans, according to a new survey of Ad Age subscribers by Ad Age and Citigroup.
Asked to identify their primary goal in Facebook ads, 45.9% of respondents put building awareness and sentiment for their brands at the top. Driving traffic to brand websites was the second most-cited goal, with 17.6% of respondents saying it is their most important objective, followed by building fans or likes, staying in touch with customers, generating sales leads and social commerce.
The third-place showing for fan acquisition is perhaps surprising because racking up "likes" has been the centerpiece of many Facebook marketing strategies, even if marketers have also persistently griped that they don't know whether likes translate to increased sales.
"Brands spent a lot of time and energy in 2011 building up their fan base, and fan acquisition was a top goal for many brands," said Debra Aho Williamson, principal analyst at eMarketer. "I think what you're seeing now is an evolution; now we have these fans and we have to figure out what to do with them."
Ms. Williamson noted that branding and awareness are consistently shown to be a top goal for marketers on social media, but that lead generation and sales tend to be higher priorities for b-to-b brands. On Facebook, those might be the marketplace advertisers buying ads at auction with the goal of driving game downloads and getting targeted users that might have an affinity for their product to visit their websites.
Meanwhile, the setbacks of Facebook commerce have been well documented, so it's not surprising that commerce would be the respondents' last priority, she said.
Facebook's pitch to the world's biggest consumer marketers is that it's a branding platform like TV, and it's been urging them to focus less on metrics such as click-through rates and more on reach and "resonance." The fact that a plurality of survey respondents said brand awareness was their top goal might mean that Facebook's message is sinking in, leading marketers away from expecting immediate results up front.
But "branding" could also be a response from people who feel bullish about their presence on Facebook but don't yet know what the return will be.
"Branding is sort of your default answer if you've got to justify why you've spent millions of dollars," said Wayne Arnold , CEO of Profero.