Much grumbling goes on these days about the uselessness of the Facebook “Like” on a brand page. It is true that, with Facebook’s recent adjustments to its algorithms, only about 2 percent of those who “like” a brand’s page will ever see its’ posts in their news feeds.
But, according to two paid search experts who spoke at ClickZ Live New York Wednesday, the platform is still the best investment out there for digital marketing dollars.
“Most other social platforms out there are still underdeveloped (in terms of ads) and do not allow you to track the user experience,” says Brittany Richter, supervisor of paid social at digital marketing company iProspect.
Co-panelist Tara Siegel, supervisor of paid social at eBay Enterprise, was even more bullish on Facebook.
“Facebook is a revenue-driving medium,” Siegel says. She points to bracelet maker Alex and Ani, an eBay Enterprise client that decided last year to focus strongly on targeting new customers via Facebook. “On Thanksgiving Day, they drove more revenue on Facebook than on Google and Bing,” she says.
According to a case study of the company, Facebook ads drove $1.6 million in revenue at Alex and Ani between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday last year.
Companies who shift away from a focus on “Likes” and fans, and start emphasizing how to best used paid, targeted advertising on Facebook will see success, the two search experts say. But that is only if brands play by the new rules, which means “pay to play.”
Although the free ride is over, Richter believes it ultimately benefits advertisers.
“Organic content on a lot of platforms has become crowded and noisy as more brands and users sign up. Paid social allows for the user experience to stay intact on Facebook. That’s good for advertisers, too, because not that many ads can show up at the same time, which eliminates noise and gets their ads more attention,” says Richter.
“Although ad dollars are now necessary, the good news is that the platforms are becoming more sophisticated and you are able to make your audience more qualified. Money is going further,” she adds.
But it takes focused attention to get results on Facebook, the two agreed. Instead of hazy “engagement” goals, that means tightly linking a company’s business objectives – whether that be increased brand awareness or increased revenues – with paid social efforts. It also means that social must be integrated into a company’s overall media plan.
“Social deserves a seat at the table when it is time to develop a communications plan,” says Richter. “We are seeing a lot of blurred lines between social, display, and search. So start with a business objective and see how each channel best fits into that. You need a holistic, integrated approach.”
Siegel then gave some concrete tips for companies who want to plan and implement paid social campaigns on Facebook.
One strategy is to feed Facebook with data from a company’s own customer relationship management system, giving it information on those who signed up for emails from the company. Facebook can find lookalike audiences based on the demographics of this data, without actually knowing who exactly your customers are. “This is a great way to find a new customer base,” Siegel says. Facebook then targets those people with your ads.
Siegel also recommends having a testing budget, so that companies can try out different strategies to see what works and what doesn’t. She also urged brands to take advantage of very simple to implement features on Facebook such as the call-to-action buttons “Shop Now!” and “Sign Up.”
Another tip: Unlike in search, it is important to keep the ad images that run on social fresh, changing them every week if not more frequently.
But Richter warned that the best-planned campaign is useless if there is no tracking or measurement mechanism in place to determine the actual return on investment (ROI) from social spend. She likens a campaign without tracking to playing pin-the-tail-on-the donkey, where brands are just guessing what the results will be.
“You need to track your progress, see what’s working in search, and leverage that in paid social,” she says, noting that companies should identify technology solutions that tell them how they are performing and allow them to test different features.
Asked by one audience member how to sell a paid social program to skeptical management, Richter recommended using Google Analytics, Bit.ly, or pixel tags within Facebook to tag referrals from social media pages with code that shows where the user came from.
“Make sure paid social is getting the credit, or is becomes hard to make a case for it. Social is not always the last click before purchase,” she notes.
Asked about other social media platforms that are appropriate for paid social, Richter commented that Twitter is in particular suited for targeting customers who have been tweeting about a TV show on which they have advertised. “This is a great example of social as an extension of a media plan. We have seen great success in getting people to convert from Twitter and raising awareness of a brand,” she says.
Richter and Siegel both agreed that Pinterest shows great potential for the future, but still has work to do in terms of tracking results. But Instagram, they agreed, is woefully behind, as it does not yet allow embedded links that could lead a user to a brand’s website.