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Why You Need Facebook Ads Despite What GM Says

  |  June 7, 2012   |  Comments

If it's customer acquisition you have in mind, make sure to ask questions, use images, and include calls to action.

The unequivocal consensus among brands - large, small, national, and local alike - is that there's value to advertising on social media sites. It's 2001 all over again, only this time it isn't paid search advertising that's on everyone's lips but a more interactive approach to reaching consumers that promises to have just as much staying power.

It's easy to look back and see why search engine advertising blew up. When consumers search for information and a paid ad appears, they're already actively engaged. The majority of the media buyer's work is done; not only has she found interested users, but users who are interested right now. Because of that, click rates can be high and easily lead to product purchases.

Can the same be said about social media? That's the question, and perhaps the only thing holding brands back. From the perspective of exposure - be it increasing brand awareness, recall, or affinity - social media marketing has demonstrated its power, but the recent news that General Motors would be terminating its Facebook ad spending sent up a red flag. Enquiries followed. Automotive News, among many other publications, asked whether Facebook could really help sell cars at all. Brand awareness? Experts told the publication that yes, for that, the site has its uses. Generating automotive sales leads? Not so much.

And yet, brands like Ford have continued to place display ads on the site, citing a strong execution as the key to success. They aren't the only ones spending. In the first quarter of this year $872 million of Facebook's $1.06 billion in revenue came from ads. It's the industry leader in U.S. display ad revenue, topping even Yahoo (ironically, Google is expected to surpass Facebook in ad sales by next year).

Meanwhile, other forms of social media are becoming lead generation tools in their own right. One recent survey reports that 32 percent of Pinterest users have made a purchase after seeing an image on the site, some by clicking directly on the link and others by searching elsewhere for the product. Another survey conducted by blog ad network BlogHer found social sites could influence a purchase among female users, with 47 percent of Pinterest users, 31 percent of Twitter users, and 33 percent of Facebook claiming this to be true. But these purchases were incited by social media recommendations, not paid ads.

Every campaign is unique; every digital marketing success subjective in its relevance to product type, brand objectives, and campaign goals. If Facebook's ads didn't work out for GM, does that mean others should cut and run? Of course not. It's expected there will be 1.43 billion social network users worldwide by the end of this year, up nearly 20 percent over 2011. Facebook has 900 million of these, along with your competitor's ads. What it doesn't have, however, is the same type of user behavior that lured marketers to paid search, and this is where media buyers must be wary. If it's customer acquisition you have in mind, keep these tips close.

  • Ask a question. The consumer who sees your ad may not have sought out your brand by way of an active search, but as an advertiser with a strong targeting strategy you know enough about her interests to personalize her social ad experience. Use your headline to reference this information, and the body copy to explain why she'll likely be interested in your product, too.
  • Use images to make your point. Facebook users are accustomed to plenty of visual interest, and expect the same from display ads.
  • Include a call to action. Brands that are masters at using message copy to generate a click sometimes forget to do the same on social sites. Space is at a premium, so it's back to the days of "Click here!" and "Learn more!" (and the newly popular "Click to Like us"). It may not be poetic, but it works.

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Tessa Wegert

Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.

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