Three Ways Facebook Has Jumped the Shark for Marketers

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Way way back in pre-IPO Facebook history, I pondered in a 2010 Ad Age post about whether Facebook had jumped the shark, given the advertising platform's constant iterations.

My intention, then as now, was to understand how advertisers can effectively use Facebook. As I wrote at the time: "I have no ax to grind with Facebook, but I hold no sacred cows either." This is still true. Facebook ad products continue to morph and change, leaving marketers stumped to answer basic questions like: What's the ROI of Facebook? How does Facebook measure its authentic audience size? What percentage of Facebook accounts are real vs. fake?

Within this context, I believe 2017 will go down as the year Facebook "jumped the shark," defined by Urban Dictionary as the moment "…when something that was once great has reached a point where it will decline." With all the measurement trust issues swirling around Facebook, 2017 will be the year when advertisers start calling the shots -- not through demands, but by making different and diverse choices with their budgets. While Facebook will remain a vital part of a marketer's toolkit, the new reality means we must adapt with new strategies appropriate to these trust-challenged times.

1) Facebook campaign ROI (effectiveness)

Advertisers have a hard time answering basic ROI questions because it's hard to translate "Likes" and "Views" into business results. This challenge is made all the worse by both the fluidity and expansiveness of the platform. Thriving amidst the churn requires skepticism mixed with tactical shifts:

  • Be ruthless in clear goal-setting, with metrics that are specific to conversion or traffic building. Steer clear of "Likes" or "Shares" as success metrics, and see them rather as useful indicators to tweak campaigns.
  • Diversify your social buy to ensure a healthy, competitive and well-populated social ecosystem. It's clear Facebook dominates, in part, because it's efficient to "scale" with a minimum of labor. Yet social scale needs to be intimate with quality engagement, a challenge for Facebook. An alternative to achieve scale with quality is to create custom influencer networks via influencer mapping solutions like Little Bird. Aggregating large audiences through leveraging influencers can give advertisers comparable scale, but at a human, quality level.

2) Facebook measurement

Trust in ad tech is at an all-time low, and Facebook, as a part of the ecosystem, bears some culpability: "Facebook needs accountability to win back advertisers' trust."

There is little advertisers can do when Facebook measurement goes awry, but there are safeguards advertisers can put in place to mitigate the risk:

  • Trust but verify by creating multiple testing scenarios within Facebook that can be validated with internal advertiser data like email or web analytics. It's best to test specific Call to Action (CTA) metrics to determine the best methodology to generate quality, not quantity, audience engagements.
  • Design testing experiments that compare alternate social channels to Facebook. For example, compare CTA metrics of Facebook to strong, topic-based communities like Hometalk, a community of 10 million crafters. Metrics should revolve around quality KPIs, not scale.

3) Audience engagement with Facebook

Facebook has come under significant pressure to clean up its trust act, and this Mashable post minces no words: "2016 was the year we figured out Facebook's empire is dangerous." Consumer sentiment, unsurprisingly, is shifting in sympathy, representing a chilling development for advertisers in reaching quality engagement goals in Facebook. Here are some ways to compensate:

  • Social is a powerful engagement platform, especially when it engages around topics and branded content. To fully exploit social-powered content marketing, design campaigns that combine "social content" in the form of polls or games (via companies like Playbuzz or Apester) with amped-up content distribution via programmatic content-marketing channels. This sophisticated interplay of content engagement with scale distribution can rival Facebook in measurable and meaningful ways.
  • Invest in local advertising as a powerful word-of-mouth social outlet. While Facebook offers sophisticated geo-targeting, nothing is more socially intimate than an advertiser participating in local promotions, community events and causes.

Whether you agree or not that this is Facebook's "jumping of the shark" moment, it's clear that this is the moment when marketers can drive the evolution of social marketing through our collective and courageous ad budget choices. This is how our voices can be heard above the thunderous din of Facebook's algorithms and stock price.

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