“I like jazz, but don’t want a trumpet,” and other Facebook advertising woes.

Image courtesy of
Flickr user Ed Yourdon.

Facebook, I really want to spend money on you. Unfortunately your native ad management platform is limited. It is very hard to determine how well those ads will perform without the use of third party tools or vendors. Unlike Google Adwords or Bing, companies (small and large) have approached Facebook advertising with some trepidation.

The problem is two fold:

Facebook advertising = miniature billboards.

Advertising on any social media outlet is akin to billboards you see on a busy highway. Your focus is on avoiding crazy drivers,  listening to music, or chatting with your friend (hands-free of course). By chance something flashy or weird catches your attention. It could be one of those sign twirling guys or a billboard. There’s an even slimmer chance the ad actually relates to you. Now imaging instead of driving, you’re on Facebook or Twitter. You’re more concerned about reading posts from friends or responding to comments on your recently uploaded pictures. Just by chance, an ad about cheap scuba gear (because you’ve “liked scuba”) on the right side catches our attention. Maybe you’ll click, maybe you won’t.

The basis of Facebook ad targeting relies heavily on interests determined by what a users mentions in his/her profile. Interests are transient and are not indicative of an immediate need. I like “Jazz” but does that mean I am in need of a trumpet? This is very different from search marketing since the ads provided by Google or Bing are solely determined by what you are seeking at that very moment.

No help for the masses.

Of course, larger companies can afford smart ad agencies or third party vendors. They can help insert sponsored posts or ads while people are discussing related topics. They do this by analyzing millions of social media updates and determine:

  1. What is discussed:
    “Honey Boo Boo’s ‘Sketti’ recipe: spaghetti, equal parts ketchup and butter.”
  2. How they feel about the subject matter:
    “Holy crap, that’s gross!” or “Hey, don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it!”
  3. Determine which ads are most relevant and deliver:
    Prego, Barilla and Pepto

Smaller companies or individuals, on the other hand, can’t afford such fancy semantic analysis. They have to make do with the basic sponsored content or ad system provided by Facebook. As it relates to Facebook’s revenue potential, this is a substantial lost opportunity. The ability to empower everyone to setup online advertising quickly and effectively is what makes search marketing such a powerhouse. Now, I don’t mean to say social media marketing is inherently useless. Far from it.

Teach us to fish, please!

Facebook and Twitter need to show its users how to most effectively advertise on their site. Namely, paid advertising doesn’t come close to harnessing the real power of social media when compared to creating and managing a highly engaged community of customers. Though our BMW Ultimate Drive Facebook community has under 1000 likes, a high percentage of our users frequently post updates, add comments, and share our stories to their friends. The total reach is exponentially higher and that’s purely based on our community’s willingness to share. Unfortunately Facebook doesn’t explain the basics of this strategy and leaves it up to vendors and third party app developers to pick up the slack. Compare social media marketing with something equally complex: affiliate marketing. Commission Junction, the hands down leader in affiliate marketing platform, invests lots of money and time in their University, CJU. There, anyone can receiving training sessions, attend events, read up on forums, connect with experts and discover industry specific best practices to make a successful affiliate marketing campaign.

Ultimately, Facebook has a thin line to tread no matter how easy they make it for me to want to give them money. While they can pump volumes of user info to advertisers, they have to be careful not to lose our trust. Intentions must be transparent, and privacy settings must be easy to manage. I hope Facebook’s shareholders don’t force the site to load up on ads for short term revenue gains only to steadily lose users out of frustration in the years that follow.