Facebook Promoted Posts: Game Changer or Side Show?

Earlier this year Facebook officially rolled out its Promoted Posts function as a new tool to push promotional message content to users. Is this just another side show in the ever traveling circus that is social media? Or are we seeing a more fundamental shift in how marketing works?

What Is It?

Promoted Posts is a function that allows users, mostly brands and advertisers, to promote their message content further and wider than would have otherwise been seen by original fans. It does this by relaying the message to ‘Friends of Fans’ i.e., anyone in a fan’s direct circle of Facebook friends. If you have say 1,000 fans on your brand fan page, and each of them has 100 friends, suddenly your potential universe has grown to 100,000 users.

Nothing new with this, ‘Member Get Member’ has been around for years, but it has always relied on a member actually doing something to help get that new member. With Promoted Pages, the referral happens whether you like it or not.

The snail mail marketing equivalent would be for a brand to mail all your next door neighbors, “Dear Occupant, your neighbor is a good customer of ours, so we thought that you also might have the potential to be a customer as well.”

How Does It Work?

Assuming the original post meets some pre-defined criteria for popularity etc., a function exists on the Facebook page to ‘Promote’ it.

(Source: Facebook.com)

You will be directed to a fairly simple and easy to use set up page where you assign a budget for your desired reach. Then of course you have to pay a fairly modest fee typically in the tens of dollars.

There are some complex Facebook algorithms behind the scenes that define your actual target audience to ensure people are not over-targeted, etc. And your Promoted Post instantly appears at the top of the newsfeed for all those targeted friends of fans.

Once launched, you can check on progress and results in the Facebook Campaigns area.

What’s Good About It?

It obviously provides potential for you to get your brand and your message out to more people, although it is not a magic bullet. The qualification rules and the target algorithms will dictate how far and how wide it is going to go. As users increasingly tune out sponsored ads placed on the side panel, getting your message to the top of the newsfeed is important.

As users flock to mobile access to Facebook in growing numbers, where sponsored ads do not work at all, this may be the only way you can access a target audience.

We should not understate the power of a peer referral. Peers and friends tend to be like-minded, so hopefully this provides a better target for new prospects. Promoted Post appears prominently at the top of the newsfeed with the apparent endorsement of your friend. Not exactly a ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ that are true endorsements, but one wonders how many people will really notice the difference.

What Are the Downsides?

One of the greatest issues with this is that as a brand you are trading on your fans relationship with their friends, without their consent or active participation. Setting aside obvious privacy concerns (hey, you ticked the consent box!), there is a risk that this might cause a degree of alienation between fans and their friends, “Hey buddy, stop sending me all that stuff!” Or consequently between fans and the brands, “Hey, I’ve just been unfriended, because of all your posts!

It cannot be particularly accurately targeted at present. Some geographical targeting is possible, but at this stage not much more. So, for example, I could not target all the friends of fans who are women. Hopefully they are working on something there.

It is not a social media panacea from a marketing point of view. It is not going to deliver millions of new fans at the single click of the button. It perhaps only offers incremental benefits over what you might be doing already. For those that are running less sophisticated Facebook activities, it implies that you need to get with the numbers and analytics thing. Using this well will lie in being able to spot, action, and measure the degrees of difference that a lot of analytics-driven marketing implies. That means new skills.

Tips for Getting Started

  1. Your original post needs to have critical mass, around 400 likes before this can kick in and it needs to be less than three days old. If you are not getting 400 likes in three days, you are not in the game!
  2. Pick posts that are going to appeal, video is always popular followed by images. A whole lot of dreary text is not going to cut it.
  3. Remember you are trading on your fan’s reputation, don’t betray the trust they have placed in your brand with the wrong content.
  4. Think mobile – this might be the only effective way to get through to a target audience that is predominantly mobile in their access to Facebook.
  5. Promote fun stuff. Users can spot a sales pitch a mile off and tend to mentally filter them out. Fun will get you better results and more connections.
  6. Test things – not everything is going to work and that’s OK, test different approaches over time to build a library of results and experience that is going help refine and demonstrate if this really works for you.
  7. Split test between Sponsored Post, Promoted Posts, and always have control groups, see what works for you.

Will It Work?

For Facebook, probably yes. They have a lot of possibly disappointed shareholders to appease and this function provides a low cost approach to open up and democratize marketing. Potentially useful to a lot of small and individual enterprises, Joe’s Plumbing, Mary’s Cake Shop, or bloggers perhaps looking to build their businesses $10 at a time. As Apple and its App Store have demonstrated, offering things to a lot of people at a low cost is a good way to make money and grow a market.

It also has a role to play for the more established brands; particularly the smart ones, better at using social networks as engaging marketing tools. The Promoted Posts become another tool in the increasingly complex micro-managed world of customer engagement. On its own it’s not going to change the world but a significant tool for driving incremental differences, tweaking and fine-tuning.

What is perhaps most exciting is that it is another step in the relentless march toward a new form of ‘mass’ marketing, one that moves away from traditional big media, beyond segmented channels, and toward truly individualized marketing driven by more intelligent targeting, known customer relationships, and the power of peer referrals.

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