With its stock still struggling amid investor doubts about the effectiveness of its advertising platform, Facebook is touting research from a partner -- ComScore -- to prove out the ROI of its products for marketers.
In a new study being released today in collaboration with Facebook, ComScore looks to show that exposure to earned-media impressions -- or content that a brand's fans or their friends might see organically -- results in more purchases. It also said premium Facebook ads result in more purchases.
The research is coming out at time when Facebook is on a mission to prove that the branding power of its socially enhanced display products will result in purchases over time, just as TV does, and that the effectiveness of Facebook ads shouldn't be measured in click-through rates or direct sales. The message, which ComScore's research backs up, is that just because you don't notice Facebook marketing messages because they're packaged in innocuous-seeming display ads or buried in your news feed in between photos of your sister's vacation and your high school friend's baby doesn't mean they aren't working.
ComScore conducted this research with a test group that had been exposed to organic brand content and a control group that had not. The earned-media effectiveness studies used Starbucks and Target fans and friends of fans and followed the test and control groups over the course of four weeks. In the case of Starbucks, 2.12% of the group exposed to organic Starbucks Facebook content had made an in-store purchase after four weeks, as opposed to 1.54% of the group that had seen no such content but made an in-store purchase (a 38% difference). In the case of Target , 3.9% of the group exposed to organic content made an in-store or online purchase in the elapsed month, compared to 3.3% of the group that hadn't been.
"We saw that the increase grew with each subsequent time period, so that really speaks to the latent branding effects of earned media exposure, [similar to] TV advertising," said Andrew Lipsman, ComScore's VP-marketing.
Last summer, Facebook released data that indicated fans of Starbucks tended to spend more in store than non-fans. However, that study was criticized as not necessarily differentiating between correlation (people who spend more at Starbucks also tend to be Facebook fans of Starbucks) and causation (did their exposure to content resulting from being a Facebook fan of Starbucks cause them to spend more in store?). Mr. Lipsman emphasized that this study focused on causation.
As part of the same study, ComScore was commissioned by Facebook to look at the effect of exposure to premium Facebook ads by a major retailer (who ComScore would not identify) on purchase behavior. After a month, it found that 1.47% of the test group had made an in-store purchase of the brand, compared to 1.27% of the control group, and that 0.61% of the test group had made an online purchase, compared to 0.39% of the control group.
Mr. Lipsman was also dismissive of a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week that 80% of Facebook users had never bought a product or used a service as a result of ads or comments they had seen on the platform, noting that people tend not to be self-aware about advertising's influence on their behavior.
"It's not a sound research method," he said. "If you ask most people, 'Does the advertising work on you?,' they're likely to say no."